In the first few months of R’s life as a tiny embryo in my belly, Chris and I decided to pick up and move across the country to the humid south. We had both lived in the Colorado mountains for quite a while, mostly in Boulder and the Front Range, and while we had loved it, we knew it wasn’t the place we wanted to raise a family.
We settled on the slick heat of the North Carolina South. I had lived in Georgia before, and although I’d sworn I’d never live on the Eastern half of the US ever again, I craved the slower pace of the South.
It’s a culture shock when you move 1,500 miles away, no matter which direction you decide to go in. Store names change, restaurant menus differ, social norms are foreign, and accents make even small talk challenging. We might all be Americans, but we live under different umbrellas. There are things that separate us, for sure.
Eventually, R came along, a native Southerner by birth. When her birth certificate arrived I remember staring at that blue piece of paper for a while, grappling with all my own issues tangled up with my stereotypes of the South. I had consciously decided to raise a kid here, but I was still having trouble fully aligning with my decision. We might live in the South, but I wasn’t interested in us actually being from the South. There were too many negative connections to it.
But as the months have passed, some feelings have crept in I wasn’t expecting. Nostalgia, for one. Nostalgia for some connection to a past that reaches out behind me, something narrower than the epic one we all share as humans. I want a culture I can study and experience and know. As a rootless Millennial, I’ve never had that and never wanted it. A tiny kid has changed that.
It’s taken me 35 years and becoming a mom to realize what to many is obvious. Roots matter. Community matters. Culture matters. These things give our lives meaning because they weave us into the fabric of a greater story, but a tight-knit one. It’s the story of plants and people and soil and water and hills, and how these things shaped a future different from the ones shaped by other parts of the country and world.
The more I think about this, the more I feel like it’s my duty as a mom to connect R to some roots of her own. Is attachment to a community less important than attachment to parents? I’d say they’re pretty close. It seems to me that if a child thrives the stronger their connection is to their parents, then the same holds true for their connection to a community.
It makes sense. Root a child in family and past and place and they will feel safe and secure, just like with traditions and rituals and routines. I didn’t have any of these attachments growing up, and looking back it’s easy to see how much better things would have been if I would have. But I have R, and I can make sure things are different for her.
Every day, I strive to create the simplest and most uncomplicated life for her, for my partner, and for myself. Strangely enough, exploring the culture I’m in seems like the next step in doing so. It’s still difficult for me to formulate exactly why, but there’s something there. There’s a feeling of comfort that comes from knowing the land, the plants, the folk remedies, and the people where you live. And comfort promotes feelings of security, which leads to the ability to relax, which is where simplicity lies.
Besides wanting to root R in something deeper than our family, I’ve also been thinking about the tragedy of lost cultures. Does this have to be a natural outcome of an increasingly connected world? I don’t think it does, but in order for culture to survive, we each have to learn and pass on the old ways: the traditions, rituals, recipes, arts, and stories. We owe it to the elders in our communities. We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to our kids.
A few months ago, on a shelf in a junky thrift store, I found a book I wasn’t expecting. It’s called “Legacy: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Personal History,” and is about exactly this. It’s a book of prompts that reminds me of Story Corp, like “What were the significant milestones in your career or personal life in your twenties and thirties? Tell which you think were thresholds and in what way? “ and “What were the things you thought you’d do when you had enough time?” The more I’ve read this book, the more I’ve realized what we lose by not asking these questions. We lose an understanding not only of specific people but of culture and time and the world itself.
If you haven't before-if you're late to the game like me-I hope you'll start exploring the culture where you live. Take your kids and search your thrift stores and book shops for local history books and guides. Get to know the elders in your community. Listen to their stories. Walk the streets. Learn what plants and trees grow in your neighborhood. Each step we take sends our roots a little deeper into the soil of our culture, and into the greater fabric of humanity.
Are you already digging into the culture you live in? What’s the story of the place that you live? Let me know in the comments below :)
“The past ten years, as I’ve worked with the Legacy questions, I’ve talked and listened to many people in retirement centers, in church meeting rooms and living rooms, and across kitchen tables. When we’re focused on the later adult years, it’s been very clear that those in their sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties are today’s pioneers…We have much to learn from our elders as we watch them inhabit new territories. And our charts and maps are few, as this region of life is experiencing the greatest transformation of any in the life cycle.”
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