Photo by Synora Hunt Cummings

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Heading north on I-95 having spent time with my now extended family, I catch a glimpse in the sideview mirror. The sun sets with immense strokes of oranges and reds against a canvas of pale blues. The sky casts a reminiscent glow of a childhood fulfilled in the only place I will ever call home. The distant road stretches for miles behind us as headlights beam like the porch lights that beckoned my cousins, my brother, and me in from a full day of play.

I hear those days. Those days sound like the laughter of cousins climbing trees and running barefoot through fields of corn. I hear the creak of the old screen door as the spring stretches with all its might and finally gives way as it slams shut. I hear the distant call of my grandmother (Nanna) who had sent us out to play at nearly the break of day. The evening is now setting in; she calls us to get in the house to wash up for supper. Water runs, dishes clank, chairs slide against the wood plank floor. The grace is said and Nanna scolds us to “quit all that grinning” so that our bellies get good and full. Full and fulfilled. I hear the sound of a rifle ringing through the chilly air, a hog squealing until it plops to its death. The old folks sound much like the hen house as they recall their own stories of home, passing them down to the next generation through laughter and healing. I hear the hymns from the old burgundy hymnal being sung no matter if we were in that little house turned place of worship or gathered in the cinderblock homeplace. I hear those words of wisdom imparted on my heart both spiritually and culturally.

I smell those days. My hometown, Fairmont, North Carolina, was once iconic for the smell of cured tobacco. Warehouses once lined the town from one end to the other. The sweet earthy aroma of those momentous golden leaves was a sure sign that summer had come and auctions were ensuing. Those warehouses no longer stand and home looks a bit empty nowadays. Home smells like freshly baked made-by-hand biscuits and shallow bowls filled with spoonfuls of sugar and Folger’s coffee poured from a stainless-steel percolator. I smell the rawness of pork meat cut into chops and ground into sausage links, barbecue, and cracklins to fill many a freezer for the winter. I smell Peach Sweet Snuff and Red Man chewing tobacco. It was the potpourri of my youth.

I taste those days. Those days taste like top lip sweat infused water from a green hose connected to the pumphouse on a hot summer’s day. Big lima beans cooked on hocks ladled over white rice with a side of tea so sweet it could get up and walk. I taste a bait of Spots with the fish bones piled high in the center of the table, homemade slaw and fried cornbread, and always pound cake to follow. Fish-frys were always a way of gathering and being and belonging. Home tastes like grits, eggs, and fried bologna mixed together with a heaping of ketchup (the kind in the glass bottle) stirred in. I taste cut candy from Nanna’s antique dish and snack cakes from momma’s pantry. I taste sweet red watermelon eaten on a rusty tailgate as the juices streak down my arm. Home tastes like red Kool-Aid and Smilin’ Jack cookies after a day of school and the journey down the long dirt road to the white wood-planked house.

When I close my eyes long enough, I see and feel those days. I see the many houses that built this home, each one reflecting its own room. Each room offering something different, but very much the same. I see the big brown table where love was hosted and from where love grew. I see the red metal swing beneath the pecan trees where cousins would see just how high it would go before tipping over. When I close my eyes I see my great grandparents, the foundation from which this home has stood. I feel safety and security. I feel known and important. Here, where I know home to be, I feel accomplished and fulfilled. Not because of accolades, but because I have found the place where many long to be.

Home is palpable, pulsing with the rhythm of the veins that carry my family name.