Saturday, August 9, 2008

Back in the Land of "Ya'll"

One of my most vivid memories from one of the most vivid expenditures of however many lives I seem to have is climbing out from under my totaled 1975 Carmine Red Spitfire, upside down in a field of corn in eastern North Carolina in 1983, brushing the dust from my shoulders and hair, staring at the underbelly of my car and thinking, "Who can I get to help me turn this thing right side up so I can drive on back to Goldsboro--I've got to fly tomorrow" (never mind that the rear wheels were almost touching in the middle, the point of impact with the telephone pole having been about even with those rear wheels, except about three-quarters of the way through a roll) then turning to walk out of the field and being greeted immediately by a middle-aged, African-American woman of substantial girth, arms raised in praise, eyes wide and white and shifting between God's heaven and the ghost I suspect she thought she saw before her, and voice proclaiming for a now gathering crowd (I'd taken my time crawling out from under that totaled shell, taking inventory of limbs to make sure everything moved and was still attached--something I'd learned from having read Fleming's entire Jame's Bond series over the past year while killing time on nuclear alert waiting for WWIII), "HE'S ALIVE! HE'S ALIVE! PRAISE GOD ALMIGHTY HE'S ALIVE!"

I remember smiling warmly, struck by the enthusiasm of her earnest rejoicing at my fate, then asking politely, "I don't suppose ya'll might have a phone I could use?"

The rest of that story I'll save for another day, but I've told that much because her voice keeps echoing in my head today. My own inner voice keeps paraphrasing her chorus, but the enthusiasm matches her pitch just perfectly, "HE'S BACK! HE'S BACK! PRAISE GOD ALMIGHTY HE'S BACK!" Back in the land of "ya'll," the land of pine, azaleas, dogwoods, sundresses, 30-second-shirt-soaking humidity, red clay, cotton, soy beans, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Doobie Brothers, Charlie Daniels, and Jack too. Home. Slightly off target perhaps, landing here in Charleston, South Carolina, rather than 3 hrs north, nearer Kannapolis, North Carolina, but closer than a lot of Soviet re-entry vehicles I think, and close enough that the language is the same, the customs much the same, the heritage much the same.

Charleston will have its own character that I may never fully understand--I got that much (and more) from Conroy, but this is still the South, with a capital S. And the differences from place to place in the South stand out far more starkly to someone who's never left it than to someone who's been too much out of it in the past three decades. I see far more similarity across its regions than I ever might have if I'd never left.

So, I'm back. And tomorrow, with the aid of a truly incredible Realtor, I hope to find the right place to live for a bit--nine months at least, while I fill a position as a Visiting Professor at the Citadel--longer maybe, depending on what fortunes the coming year brings. One step at a time.

I'll say this though, coming in those last 20 miles, I found the FM station that became the first new preset on my car stereo. Q104.5, Charleston's Classic Rock, is the clearest station I've ever heard. Ever. I'm nearing half a century. That station must broadcast with enough power to reach nearby galaxies. Classic tunes, crystal clear. I'd been three of the longest days ever on the road, pulling a six-by-twelve-foot trailer heavy enough not to like traveling faster than 60 mph without developing a mind of its own. Last time I'd crossed the country at that speed it was in that Spitfire and I was busting the national speed limit by 5 mph at the time. Having grown used to speeds closer to 80 mph on long trips, I'd forgotten how long such a road trip really can be. (And I have to offer a hat tip here to my teenage daughter who dropped out of warp to follow that trailer at that crawling pace in the same VW Beetle that the two of us had used to make the same trip in only two days heading the other direction only two months ago. Just another half day longer and they have needed to commit us both.) So when I was moving through the dial, looking for static so as to listen to an Audible book from my Palm Treo broadcast on FM, I was stopped in my tracks by the clarity of the sound, then riveted by the appropriateness of the words, as Bob Seger voiced my very thoughts, "And you don't feel much like riding, you just wish the trip was through."

That was my welcome to Charleston around 1 a.m. this morning. About the time I was thinking, "This trip almost is through," and about the time I was hearing that big, beautiful, booming, woman's voice in my head, and thinking, "Yes. Yes. Yes. Praise God Almighty indeed. He's back."