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Sunday, March 18, 2012

"The House That Built Me"

Living in Pennsylvania, having grown up in Alabama, people often assume I like country music. Truthfully, not so much. I can listen to Rascal Flatts because the lead singer has a unique and amazing voice, but that's about it. "Red Solo Cup?" Catchy, but really?

But in flipping through the radio the other day, I stumbled on Miranda Lambert's, "The House That Built Me." It stopped me in my tracks and made me cry. The simple guitar, the haunting and honest lyrics, her honeysuckle voice. So now I have one song in my country genre in my iTunes. In listening to the song a few more times, I realized that it wasn't just the trifecta that touched me. The song articulates everything I feel when I go home to Alabama to visit. Although my parents don't live in the house I grew up in anymore, just being home changes me.

I left Alabama in 1991, over twenty years ago, to pursue the world. I moved to Atlanta and got a law degree, then moved to South Florida and became a litigation attorney. I lived on South Beach and spent my weekends sipping Cuban coffee in cafes. I met celebrities while living there. I learned how to live on my own in a big city. I read literature and had discussions over dinner about politics, social issues, and changing the world. I lived my twenties in a place completely disconnected from the one I grew up in. I think part of this was purposeful. I wanted to define myself in my own way. Part of it was likely rebellious, having grown up in a small, conservative town in rural Alabama. But mostly, I just longed to see the world. To experience different cultures, people, and food. If you've never had a Cuban coffee, you are missing Nirvana. Every afternoon at three, some angel in our law firm would go into the kitchen and brew some.

Since meeting and marrying my pilot husband, we've traveled the country and the world. I love the chocolate croissants and cafe au lait in Paris. The gnocchi in northern Italy is heaven in your mouth. The views of London from the Eye are breathtaking. The Irish landscape is green beyond any green I've ever seen. The chowder in a sourdough bowl in San Francisco is amazing. The beach in Monterey juxtaposes mountain with sea. The exhibits in the Smithsonian Museums in Washington D.C. teach me something new every time I visit.

But when I step off that plane in Montgomery. When I embrace my Daddy. When I have a hot fudge cake at Shoney's, I rediscover a part of me. A part that has lain dormant for twenty years. I become a daughter again. The wide-eyed innocent that grew up in Prattville, Alabama. The girl who believed anything was possible and nothing could hurt me. Yes, life proved that to be naive and untrue. But when I return to Alabama, to "the house that built me," I close my eyes. I push aside twenty years and seek that girl who'd never felt heart break. Who hadn't lost a child. Who hadn't left everything behind and created a new life--not once or twice but three times.

In listening to Ms. Lambert's song, it occurred to me that this excavation is necessary. I've compartmentalized my life, even though I know that we're the sum of our experiences. Our lives aren't an anthology of separate events, but rather one story told in chapters. Each building on the next, depending on the prior. In writing a novel, its evolution depends on the fluidity of the story. Creating a new chapter by incorporating the nuances and lessons of the former.

For some of us, we have to remind ourselves. Sit in the past. Visit that house that built us.

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