“There’s nothing half so pleasant as coming home again.”
The minute we touched off from Atlanta, my eyes started scanning the horizon for mountains. My mountains. East Tennessee and my home. I spent four days in New Orleans this past week at a seminar, and while it was a wonderful city to visit with lots of culture and history to discover, I found myself craving home.
It didn’t help that I had picked up Barbara Kingsolver‘s novel, Prodigal Summer, to kill time at the airport and found myself immersed in beautiful descriptions of the Appalachians. The novel is “a hymn to wildness” that “weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives amid the mountains and farms of southern Appalachia.” (I can’t describe it any better than the book jacket.)
Lately I find myself reading or re-reading all my favorite Southern authors and stories. I love the imperfect characters, the realness of their suffering and joys, and the redemption of poor choices and bad circumstances. I love the commitment to family and friends and the strength of people who often find themselves forging their lives in surroundings that are sometimes as harsh as they are beautiful. The familiarity of the scenes — the small towns, the mountain trails, the trees and plants, the hollers and backroads of America — all of this comforts me as I read some of my favorites.
I first picked up Jan Karon’s At Home in Mitford over 10 years ago and quickly found myself with an extended family and a little town I could call my own, as the author hoped her readers would do. Loosely based on the town of Blowing Rock, NC, this series has been an amazing journey for me (confession: I even named my little cocker spaniel after one of the beloved characters, Miss Sadie, and I think she carries the name well, with her fiesty spirit and protective loyalty). I discovered more about compassion and grace from the people of Mitford than I have witnessed in many of my church families. You can often find the wisdom of Father Tim and other Mitford friends quoted on my blog.
Adriana Trigiani’s Big Stone Gap series has been another blessing. “Filled with big-time eccentrics and small-town shenanigans, Big Stone Gap is a jewel box of original characters” (again, I can’t do better than the book flap). And I found myself quickly identifying with the main character, Ave Maria Mulligan, “the thirty-five-year-old self-proclaimed spinster of Big Stone Gap, a sleepy hamlet in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.” Another fiesty woman “who thinks life has passed her by, only to learn that the best is yet to come.”
Sometimes I have to remind myself that these characters and their homes are not real and their lives are not mine. But as I saw the mountains come into view through the small plane window Wednesday night, I smiled to myself. I know the real jewels and beauty hidden in the folds of these mountains. Real characters, real lives, real places. Thank God I’m home.