I have been living in Greensboro for about six weeks now. I am still unemployed and Lanre just began classes yesterday, so we’ve had a lot of time on our hands. I’d like to tell you that we have explored every single nook and cranny of this city that we are inexhaustibly loving, but that would be a lie. Well, not the loving part, we are that, but we’ve barely meandered meaningfully through the downtown section and only just explored a few of the many parks. Instead, we’ve been traveling.
We spent some time in the great state of South Carolina where I met the newest love of my life – Emmett Robert – who may love his Auntie Rachel to pieces and be the smiliest freakin’ baby on the East Coast. Then our taste for adventure took us south… the deep, dirty American South. To which Lanre diplomatically responded, “It’s really not fair to judge the south as dirty. It’s just so hot and dry here, how could they get the dust to settle?”
We headed out of North Carolina into South Carolina (where they have the cheapest gas), across the corner of Georgia, driving through Atlanta. Atlanta is a mecca of sorts for Nigerian immigrants and it’s a city Lanre has been hearing about his entire life. So, we may or may not have yelled like maniacs when we drove through it. Then we headed across the great state of Alabama and into the home state of my father, Mississippi where we stopped to rendez-vous with some fantastic family in Jackson.
I have been traveling to Mississippi since I was born. My parents would load all of the children – which in my lifetime ranged anywhere from three to six at any given time – in a full size van and drive straight through from Maryland to Mississippi in one shot. Stopping only for gas and snacks. I remember my Mom packing sandwiches and we would occasionally stop at those Rest Areas on the side of the road to eat. And more than once we pulled off on the side of the road for someone to pee.
After becoming an adult, I stopped visiting Mississippi. I’m pretty sure I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been there since I graduated from high school. It’s not the most wonderful of states in our great nation. Statistically it is the poorest state in the entire country and it has the highest poverty rate. The issue of racial segregation is still rampant in many parts of the state, including its capital city of Jackson which should, by all rights, be the most progressive city in the state. It’s also hot and muggy and bugs abound!
It’s not all bad though. It still has a thriving music scene focusing primarily on blues and bluegrass and jazz. It has produced some of the greatest musicians in the history of the United States including B.B. King, Jimmy Buffet & Jerry Lee Lewis. Even Oprah Winfrey hails from Mississippi. And my childhood memories from there are happy. We built forts all over the forest behind my grandmother’s house and went fishing on the pond. It was this tiny rural town and my grandparents knew everyone in it. We were related to nearly everyone in it.
One day my brother and cousins and I were walking home from the corner store where we went to get candy. There were no sidewalks, so we were walking on the grass next to the road – which was by no means busy. Suddenly a garbage truck pulls up next to us and asks, “You kids a Dillon?” We were, understandably, a little baffled. “Yes sir, we’re Dillon kids.” He named our fathers and we nodded. He said,
“Well, I just knew you was Dillons! I’m your cousin! Well, your Daddy’s cousin! They at your grandma’s house?!” So he drove the garbage truck to Grandma’s and stayed for dinner.
Stepping back in to Mississippi smelled exactly the same. It smelled like the woods around Grandma’s house. And the heat felt just as oppressive as I remembered. And the love and warmth of family, felt just as strong as I remembered. It was a short visit, but a memorable one.