The Carpet Bagger's Journal — moving from NYC to Mississippi

December 20, 2009

Crossing the line

The Mason-Dixon Line is the line, historically, between two ways of American life, between personhood and non-personhood.  For slaves, to cross this line from South to North was the difference between becoming a man or a fraction of one.  How then is it that I in crossing in the other direction find myself more complete?

The place of my transgression

I crossed the line just a little bit South of Gettysburg this week, while listening to the song, “Where I Come From” by Alan Jackson on my radio:

“…Where I come from,

it’s corn bread and chicken.

Where I come from,

a lot of front porch sittin’…”

Oddly enough, this Brooklyn girl is now from the land of corn bread and chicken — not vodka martinis and tapas.

I’m at home, a property owner for the first time in my life, and I am turning a house in a small town, as best I can, into a Monticello-like island of Jeffersonian culture, but more about that later.

Crossing the line between personhood and non-personhood in the reverse direction was astonishingly liberating.  I thought of Caesar and his Rubicon and Washington and his Potomac.  The line, it seems, is the unpatrolled border between two nations, one where I am an infiltrator of another way of life, here to do battle for truth as I understand it but also to accept a hometown welcome, too.

I’m coming home to where my hostess skills and my prayer life are a sort of gold standard.  Eccentricity combined with a certain kind of sociability in the South is no sin.  I am hopeful I will adapt, too, not just cause an adaptation.

The hills turned greener as I entered the land beneath the line, and in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, it seemed that Fall had barely taken hold, but the ruggedness of the terrain was due to a permanent state of non-ambitious relaxation, the opposite of skyscrapers preening their necks.

An old farmhouse in the Smoky Mountains

I have crossed into a new way of living, to be sure.  The time zone is different.  The seasons are different.  People want to set a spell, share a word with me, and I am going to discover.

I am marrying into a new culture, even as I marry into my own.  You see, I have lived my adult life almost entirely on an island off the coast of my own country, and this, well, at one time, this was not my own country — it had left my country behind and only returned after being utterly brought to its weatherbeaten timbers and its empty stretches of uncultivated wilderness.

For years, I have claimed to write about the American experience, and so I have, fictionally.  I see it is time for some creative non-fiction in a prosaic land where, crossing a line into a sort of no-return denim-friendliness, I have been set free into a kind of a personhood devoid of the pretensions of my previous home.

Where I come from, Alan Jackson tells me at the crossroads where the blues player met the devil, where Oedipus met his father, where slave met free, where I am now, this is not a land like any other I have known before.

May God have mercy on me as I step into the unknown and yet uncannily familiar mud of my new back yard.

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3 Comments »

  1. Congratulations on your move. In the mercy department, it seems like you escaped some nasty cold weather by heading south.

    BTW, I would have guessed that the Southern equivalent of vodka martinis would be mint juleps.

    Comment by Alan — December 20, 2009 @ 8:40 am | Reply

  2. Hi, Anne. Congratulations on your new life. In a Eastern joke, after you married, you are a slave of your marriage. Good luck!

    From a 20years slave.

    Comment by Wu Tang — December 26, 2009 @ 5:47 pm | Reply

  3. Holy Toledo, so glad I clkiecd on this site first!

    Comment by Arry — June 22, 2011 @ 6:59 pm | Reply


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