I decided, on this trip, to try and really track everything as it happened -- to put on my "therapist's cap" and use that different perspective to try and see my family, my feelings, my reactions, etc. more clearly and objectively. I thought this would help me understand myself better -- why I do certain things, why I struggle with particular emotions or demons, etc.
To that end, I filled 17 pages of my Moleskine travel journal with tiny, nearly indecipherable writing, starting on the 7th at the Portland airport and ending yesterday at the airport in Charlotte, NC where I changed planes. I just sat here and reread it all and now I'm ready to try and synthesize some things.
But first, some background: I grew up in the South but, for some reason, though I was always "in" the South, I was never really "of" the South. For a variety of reasons, I never felt welcomed into any Southern community and always felt like an outsider, an other. That "otherness" applied in two spheres, the narrow sphere of my Georgian "homeland" where all my dad's family had lived for generations, and the larger "South" into which I moved further and further with my mom and my stepdad until I finally left, first in '98 to go to Columbus, OH, and again in 2001 to come here to Portland.
I was an outsider in the larger South because we moved around a lot, because we lived for a time in a bigger "city" (Durham, NC), because I didn't have much of an accent compared to my friends (which was because my mom, who grew up in Miami, didn't have much of an accent to pass on to me), because we were Mormons, not Baptists or Methodists, because once we finally settled in our last little Southern town, Smithfield NC where I lived from 4th grade to graduation, it was too late: nobody knew our "people", we didn't go to the right church, we didn't sound like everybody else, etc, etc, ad nauseum. I was in the odd position of being called "Yankee" by some classmates (and believe me, it wasn't meant as a compliment) even though I had never been furthern North than Richmond, VA.
I was an outsider among my dad's family in Georgia for similar reasons: I lived far away, I only visited twice a year, I talked a little different, and, worst of all, I was considered a city girl. (Also not a compliment.) It didn't matter that the only real "city" I lived in was the relatively small city of Durham, NC or that we only lived there for three years. It also didn't matter that we otherwise lived in small, rural towns. If I didn't live, like them, out a long road in the middle of nowhere with nobody but family as neighbors, with nothing but barns and fields all around, then I lived in a city and that was all there was to it.
That outsider-ness only became more and more pronounced as I grew up, became queer, shed my christianity like a dead skin and pursued an intellectual sort of life. Those three things: queer, not christian and intellectual, were possibly the last three things any Southern person in my position could possibly want to be. It is true: there is a Southern aristocracy, a wealthy Southern elite who read big books and think big thoughts, who have "culture" and "intellect," and who are, perhaps, not christian and who are also, perhaps, (some at least) queer. But this Southern elite is small and nowhere near my family or anyone my family ever knew.
No, in my experience, the rural South was characterized by deep suspicion and distrust of anything that looked or smelled even a little bit different from the status quo such as it was. I never felt there was any room to move in that system and I never felt there was any loyalty or love that could save you, no matter how you traced your bloodline, no matter how long you'd lived right there, safely below the mason-dixon line, if you began, in any way, to be "different."