Southern Exposure

Have you ever been homesick?  What does that even mean?  Oh of course it means missing something or someone – but what exactly?

Here I sit with my sixty-two and a half self – pondering.  Oh, not a little ponder mind you – a moving diagonally cross-country ponder.  I live in a beautiful part of Washington State, on the British Columbia, Canada border.  Perfect you would think since I am a dual Canadian/American citizen and my oldest son, grandson and a brother live right across the border just 45 minutes away.  But I am not at peace.  My home is scrumptious.  I have met interesting people, made friends, gotten involved in the community but there’s a hole in my spirit.

I moved to Semi-Ah-Moo (a Salish word meaning half moon) two and a half years ago from Atlanta, Georgia.  Semiahmoo, a gated community in Blaine, WA is a charming place with beautiful trees and trails, salt water, wildlife, birds and fish.  I live closer to people who are important to me and yet I feel lonely here.  I feel there is something missing.  Part of me is missing.  Gated communities are an illusion.  They group together people who can afford and adhere – but they also keep energy, bustle and differences out.

I’ve lived in many places – born in the Netherlands, lived in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; Vancouver, British Columbia; Seattle, Washington; Marietta and Atlanta, Georgia, traveled all over the world and Blaine has been my stop for the past two and a half years.  I don’t fit.  I’m frustrated.  I am rethinking my decisions and moves.  Actually, I’m homesick.

Homesick.  I’ve read the word, know intellectually what it means, but in all of my life experience I’ve never actually felt it.  Homesick.  It has a whole different meaning than I would have thought.  It’s not missing a building, or people even.  It’s the missing of an environment.

Let’s back up a minute.  I moved from Seattle to Marietta, GA in 1992.  We bought the second home we saw during a weekend familiarization trip in August, and on my birthday in November I was unpacking boxes when my doorbell rang.  “How y’all doin?  Welcome to Independence Square.  Here’s a cheesecake from our Welcoming Committee”…and the questions about me began.  One after the other the neighbor ladies came to my door.  Questions and y’all’s in soft charming patterns, homemade cakes, breads and cookies made me feel as though I’d moved both home and to a foreign country.  Were these people for real?  Was anyone really that nice?

Atlanta welcomed “The Storm of the Century” in the form of blizzards, ice storms and empty grocery shelves in March of 1993.  It was fabulous!  Everyone stayed home and we raided our cupboards and fridges to create interesting and shared meals.  We took turns watching our kids toboggan down the sloped streets while sipping mulled wines and brandies.

Spring brought cherry blossoms beyond compare and pollen!  Thick yellowish green powder covered everything in thick unforgiving layers.  And then, summer.   I’d never seen a lightning bug.  It was magical.  Nights I’d sit out on my screened porch and listen to the katydids and their crescendo chorus.  Suddenly I’d feel the quiet, the sky a color of pea soup, tornado sirens and wondering whether a trip to the basement was really necessary.  Humidity filled days and dank smells reminded me of my grandparents’ house on the outskirts of Amsterdam.  My very skin dissolved and melted into it all.  I wallowed in my environment.  My soul rounded itself out.  I volunteered while my husband traveled.  My ventures took me from schools in the inner city to hobnobbing events with National Basket Ball Association wives.  I played tennis and learned how to be a nice Southern girl and compete for a point without an ounce of graciousness.  Graciousness was for after the match – bless the opposing teams’ hearts.  We could be nice while sharing the home team’s buffet luncheon.  We were here to have fun y’all, but winning mattered.

Things happened to me in the South.  I became me there.  I moved to a place where no one knew me and I was embraced.  I learned things in the South.  I learned how to be kinder, gentler, how to say thank you, how to be gracious.  I learned how to stand up for myself.  How to share and be a great friend.  I learned how to say “hey” to complete strangers.  How not to think someone wanted something just because they were friendly – and the Southerners are friendly – in stores, on the streets, in malls – perhaps everywhere except the Post Office in Atlanta.  I learned how to accept people sauntering across the street.  Who needs to be in such a damned hurry anyhow?  I lost my husband in Atlanta but gained the knowledge that the friends I made there are real.  They lifted me up and love me just as I am.

So I’m moving back.  Not to Atlanta – I need salt water close to me.  But back to thunderstorms, humidity, katydids, lightning bugs and people who say hello.  The South has exposed the real me – and I miss her.

Read Antje's bio in About Us.

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