I’m the mayor of a Piggly Wiggly in Jackson, Miss.
For the longest time, the trips from Oxford, Miss. to Huntsville and back, or from Indianola to Huntsville, or Houston or Eupora, were drives that had home on either end. I left home to go home. There was “where I live” home and there was “where I’m from” home.
Now, I’m back home in Huntsville. Where I live is where I’m from.
But there’s a part of me for which Mississippi will always be home.
I spent my life from the ages of 17 to 27 there. In a very real way, I grew up there. I graduated from college there. I got my first real job there. I got married there. I learned about life there. I spent a lot of my formative years in Huntsville, but Mississippi forged me, shaped me, refined me. The relatively gentle molding was done in Huntsville; the heat and beating that strengthen something or break it happened in Mississippi.
Mississippi also has a much greater corporate sense of place for me. I have a feel for Huntsville, but little feel for Alabama. Mississippi has a personality and character for me that I don’t feel in Alabama. I’m much more aware of Mississippi as one place, versus the collection of cities that Alabama is for me. Wherever I am in Misssissippi, even in the middle of nowhere that constitutes so much of the state, I have a sense of being there.
As a result, although I never lived in Jackson, going back there this past weekend had an element of going home, more than I expected before I got there. I posted a comment on Twitter about how going home (to Huntsville) had taken me so far from home (Mississippi). In a way, it makes sense; if you count all the days and nights I spent in Jackson over the years, I may very well have spent more time there than in Houston, where I did live.
This was my first time going back to Jackson in over two and a half years.
Going back, there were ghosts. There was a ghost, tenuous but fresh, from the last time I had been there, a trio of stops on the way to Louisiana for marriage counseling. Those memories were from better times, before things fell apart.
There was a ghost, older but less tenuous, from my marriage, from all the time we had spent together in Jackson, or that I had spent in Jackson while she was in hospitals. It drove home the tragedy of decisions made along the way.
But mostly there was a ghost of myself. A ghost of the younger me who lived there, who spent time there. A younger me for whom life was much simpler. I had only worked in one field since college. I had dated, and married, one woman. I wasn’t involved in a variety of organizations; my only extracurricular writing was to amuse myself. I had fewer bills. And, to be honest, the romance of that simpler life has an appeal. From time to time, I wish I could just leave everything here and go back to Mississippi.
But it was a good reminder also that simpler isn’t better. I like my life here. My life here, in general, isn’t more complicated because it has to be, but because I choose for it to be. I’ll be glad when my second book is done, but I wouldn’t trade writing it. Improv and church groups take up my time, but they make life more enjoyable, and, frankly, make me a better person. Post-divorce relationships have their challenges, but, gracious, any challenges Heather and I are dealing with are totally worth it.
It was good going over there. It was good hanging out at old haunts. It was great spending time with great friends. I can’t wait to go back. But it was also good coming home. I like what was waiting on this end of the road, too.
In the Indianola Pecan House store at Northpark Mall in Jackson, they were displaying a newspaper story that I’d written about the company 13 years ago. It was a little flattering. But that’s a ghost that I’m very content to leave in Jackson.
I used Foursquare to become the “mayor” of one of my old favorite restaurants, El Charro, and of a Piggly Wiggly. I liked the idea — “The Mayor of Piggly Wiggly” would be a good southern novel for someone to write. If you do, mention me in the acknowledgments. And Lain, since I really stole the idea from him. But those mayorships were more ghosts that I liked leaving behind.
So those ghosts can stay in Jackson. But the real me? I’m back home in Huntsville.