by Dawn Dillon Barrett
When I was first married, we lived for a couple of years in San Diego, a place far removed in culture and nuance from the Deep South I was used to. It was an exciting place to be for someone who’d never traveled more than 500 miles from moonlight and magnolias, particularly as the nation seemed poised on the cusp of a brand-new era. Jack and Jackie were headed for the White House, and Camelot was about to be reborn.
I was young and impressionable and very green and full of the angst that hits so many at that crucial turn into adulthood. I was at last out of the South, a citizen of the world, where everything was modern and progressive and moving at a faster pace than I had ever known. I was ready to shake the dust of what I considered the decadent old state of Mississippi off my feet and tread on brave new territory.
Truth to tell, I wasn’t very proud of my home state and its neighbors around that time. It was 1960, and some folks back home were portraying themselves in a manner that smacked of white trash doings, of ignorance and bigotry, a far cry from the land of Faulkner and Welty and two Miss Americas back to back, of which I liked to brag. And what was worse, they were doing it on national television, embarrassing me in front of all my newfound Yankee friends.
We were planning to move back home after my husband’s two-year Navy tour was over, and although I talked fancifully of wanting to live out there permanently, I knew I had no choice. I also knew down deep that I could not stay forever away from the greenery that was home.
San Diego was a jewel of a city then, set snuggly on the side of a huge bay formed by the Coronado peninsula and the Silver Strand, which was perfect for ocean swimming. Our apartment was located only a couple of blocks from a beach and a nearby stairway down the face of the cliffs gave us easy access to it. A walk of less than a mile would take us to a small shopping area, and the Old Town itself was rich in Spanish history, particularly the legend of Ramona. In Helen Hunt Jackson’s story, Ramona, of mixed Scottish and Indian blood, elopes with her proud Indian lover Alessandro, who is later killed as a result of harassment by whites.
Above our area, to the north, was Mission Beach, where the artistic types gathered on a slender strand between the ocean and Mission Bay. Beyond that was and is still the residential area of Pacific Beach, and then farther still is La Jolla, truly a jewel of a spot.
Within a couple of hours, we could be in the foothills of the mountains or taking in Walt Disney’s fascinating new theme park, Disneyland, or over in the desert within viewing range of that strange, salty inland lake, the Salton Sea. In a few brief hours on a Sunday afternoon, we could be in one of several vastly different worlds. It was quite a change from rocking on the front porch back home.
Then one evening as I crossed the room to close the curtains and shut out the darkness after the sun had disappeared, I knew. There was no afterglow, no rosy pink fingers stretched across the sky, no dusk to close the day down gently. Just daylight one moment and dark the next.
And I realized too that it had been months since I’d heard the croak of a frog or the buzz of a cicada or a cricket’s chirp. Or eaten a fresh tomato sandwich spread with Blue Plate mayonnaise. I’d forgotten how boiled peanuts taste and sweet water from a real artesian well. I missed the incomparable softness of a Southern night with stars so bright as to make you breathless and drifts of honeysuckle and sweet olive floating through the air. I was, in a word, homesick. For the South.
I guess those old Mississippi taproots go a whole lot deeper than you think.
A resident of south Mississippi, Dawn Dillon Barrett writes for the Magnolia Gazette.
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