Posted by: Billy Marsh | July 12, 2008

2 Lifetimes, 1 Life . . . so far

Nostalgia. If I could enlist one single word to describe the most overwhelming feeling I experienced the entire trip back home, it would have to be “nostalgia”. In one of my English dictionaries, the word is defined as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past.” Though my state of heart and mind was more so characterized by sentimentality than wistfulness as I stood on the grass and soil of a land where I once ran across with a much smaller shoe size, there did come a point when I was standing there motionless when I came to resent my attitude from a younger age that I often exhibited while living there, just waiting for the day that I could kick the dust off my feet and leave my hometown. Maybe it’s maturity, maybe I was ignorant, or maybe I was right in feeling that way or else I would have never left. Either way, my trip “home” was worth the extra gas money and time.

Now as I mentioned in my previous post, “home” is a word that recently I just can’t pin down. Fort Worth is definitely mine and Kim’s home. We love it here and were glad to be back. But even though I didn’t grow up in Wagoner, SC (Kim’s hometown), it has become a home of sorts for me as well. In addition, since going off to college and moving to Texas, my parents have returned to Waynesville, NC (my Mom’s hometown) which is, and always has been a home to me. Still, while I was on this trip back to the Carolinas, I made one other pilgrimage, namely, to my hometown, Camden, SC.

Initially, I made a phone call to my best friend from high school–who’s cell phone number I still remembered by heart despite the fact that I haven’t dialed it in years–in order to see if he would like to meet me in Columbia (halfway mark between Kim’s home and Camden) for lunch. He couldn’t get off work long enough to make the drive, but didn’t let me off the hook that easy. I was encouraged to see how excited he was to see me, especially since the last time we had hung out was on my wedding day three years ago (he was a groomsman). As soon as he offered to pay for my gas to drive the extra mileage to Camden, I realized there was no turning back.

Our time together was great. We reminisced quite a bit and he filled me in on all of the details and updates as to the whereabouts my graduating high school class and friends. I realized that we were all growing up when he told me that one of our close friends was running for mayor. Last time I saw this guy he was a freshman in college. However, it was good to be back “home”, driving the old roads, seeing some of the same old signs, passing the same buildings, restaurants, shops, and hang-out spots.

After Dan and I shook hands, did a “guy-hug”, and went our separate ways, I decided to take another trip down memory lane to see my home church, my old house, and the farm where my grandparents lived. When I finally arrived at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, I was amazed to see how little had changed. There was the huge front yard where our youth group had spent hundreds of hours playing tackle football, and still both buildings to the church remained intact where almost all of my ministry experience and spiritual maturity was birthed.

Me in front of my grandfather's house in 2006

Me in front of my grandfather's house in 2006

Then I drove down and passed by our old house, which was weird, since all of the cars in the driveway were somebody else’s. Finally, I entered the place where my Dad grew up, and where I did too in a lot of ways. The barn, the sheds, the old green John Deere tractor, the backhoe, the pecan trees, and my grandfather’s old white house. I walked up to the screen door and peaked in, hoping that just maybe I’d see my him sitting behind his little table in a plastic chair smoking a cigarette like I had done so many times before. I knew of course that he wouldn’t be there since he passed away in 2004, but for some reason I wanted to hear him yell through the screen door and windows at him saying as usual, “Phillip, come here, I’ve got a new idea to run by ya.” Yes, Phillip. That’s my dad’s name, but for some reason he seemed to conveniently block “Billy” out of his mind.

Next I walked out into the pastures after maneuvering myself between the electric fence wires, stepping onto the crunchy, sun-beaten grass and twigs with the aim of chasing down my old horse Sassy who I’ve had since I was five years old. She put her ears back as soon as I walked up, but that’s nothing new, hence her given name. Once I placed my hand on her mane and began to pat her back, it was like one of those scenes from the movies when I person touches something or someone and all of a sudden a flood memories pour through the mind at rapid speed, each one though seen vividly and clearly as ever. After bonding with her for a few moments, I walked over to our other horse, Bart, who we’ve also owned for a long time. He was always the prime example that an animal could have a distinct personality. Now I’m glad that I stopped by to see him cause my dad sent me an email just two days ago to tell me he sold him.

As I stood there drenched in the humid South Carolina heat, petting my horses in one of the same pastures that I had gone out into so many times before to put a halter on them to saddle them up, it was hard to believe that I actually used to live there. I felt like I was more so visiting a historical marker or some ancient archaeological dig, where the remains of a living, breathing, and working community sat there with no signs of life except those found in remembrance and testimony than my actual old stomping grounds. That life seems so long ago, almost like a dream. Even though in terms of years, it really hasn’t been that long at all, which probably makes this post seem ridiculous. But like an old song that I used to listen to by the late western country singer Chris LeDoux says, “It ain’t the years, it’s the miles.” And I myself, along with Kim for part of the way, have traveled many miles since that memorable early morning when my Dad and I packed up my belongings and dropped me off at North Greenville College when I was 18 years old. But for me, this reminiscing would be trivial if there were more continuity between the life I live now and the one I once lived. However, despite how much I try to regain the lifestyle of my past, it still remains just exactly that, my past.

But how should I deal with this nostalgia? A separate post will have to attempt to answer this question.

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Responses

  1. Billy, Maybe its because I moved around so much in my childhood, but it seems that my trips home, though somewhat similar, were not as intense. Luke was home from the Army while you guys were away, and his last day here, before moving up to Ft Bragg, he told me that it was very weird to be back home, It didn’t seem the same to him. It was like a time warp. So we had a good talk about how going home on leave would always be fun but also difficult because he has now “moved on”.
    In studying Genesis this past semester in Sunday School, and in looking at your emphasis on being a sojourner from Hebrews 11, I think we can we can both agree that this world is not our home. We have an inner longing for return to Paradise, to go home to our Father and Creator. The older I get, the more I long for that home, where we will never have a painful nostalgiac memory of this earth.
    Bryan

  2. Good stuff Bryan. In fact, you might’ve stole my thunder for “Part II”. But I’ll still write it anyway. I suppose that your moving around probably has a lot to do with it whereas I grew up in the same, small rural southern town pretty much my entire childhood. Not to mention that I also grew up in a fairly “old fashioned” manner. Not in the sense that my family was stuck in a time zone other than the present, but rather that I grew up around a way of life that was characteristic of the WWII generation. In addition, unlike many of my other peers and friends, I still had the opportunity to drive tractors, work on cars, have plenty of land to run around on, bail hay, go fishin’ in the Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn likeness, and do tons of other stuff that is fading out of family life.

    But what I was hoping to impart through the post was that, for me now, though I spent a good 13 or 14 living that way, it feels like a lifetime ago, or instead, almost like another life completely. But what you touched on in your comment is where I’d like to go in my next post on this topic. Like you said, we ought to be nostaligic for a different home. A Better Country, right?

  3. What’s curious to me about the feelings you experienced at the farm is that is pretty much the way I feel each time I go back now but it is at a totally different time in my life than it is for you. True, your lengthy disconection from that time and place increases the nostalgia but it is also because it is a very special place. It goes back to your great grandfather. Your grandfather, my dad, spent 60 years there and my childhood memories as well as nearly 20 more as an adult were made there. For me, it has become about heritage. Something that is fast disapearing in our society. Property whose soil holds the blood, sweat, and tears of generations of the same family passed down from heir to heir. It causes a person to long for it when they are disconected from it. So as we are joint heirs with Christ we long for an even better country.
    We now live in Western North Carolina, the home of Thomas Wolfe who penned the words “you can never go home”. I think he was wrong.


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