NATALIE LYONS

THE SOUL KNOWS ITS HOME

Granddaddy Harper was a fisherman. He fished from a rowboat and a pulpit. He tasted the life of a landlubber once, but was never satisfied with the dry life. What was left of his family’s riverfront farm on the Pamlico Sound in Carolina had been sold by his father to Mr. Vinson. After realizing he would never be satisfied until back on that land, Granddaddy approached Mr. Vinson, who agreed to return to him the land that had been granted to Harper kin by the King of England before the United States was formed. Granddaddy’s soul was connected to that land on the water, and once he returned, he knew he was home for good. I inherited the soul-knows-its-home gene from my Granddaddy.

Granddaddy’s son, my father, chose instead to pursue a wanderer’s life. Childhood memories for me are of too many moving vans in the driveway, another “For Sale” sign in the grass out front and conspiring with my brother about sneaking up to prospective buyers to tell them the plumbing leaked or the attic was haunted. There was never enough time to paint the walls and too much time spent on good-byes and losses. Another address scratched out in Grandma’s address book and off we go. As long as I can remember there has been a deep longing in my heart to be home. I used to think that a lengthy stay, the right layout of rooms and a garden to tend were the ingredients of a home.

As a young girl I would take ruler and pencil and design the bedroom I would sleep in, the kitchen I would cook in and a living room with a fireplace, marking doorways with little pencil angles. As a young mother I would devour Country Living magazines, certain that brick on the walls, wood on the floor and muslin gathered at windows overlooking a meadow would settle the longing.

The longing did settle once for a little while, when with my husband and young babies I lived in an old, coquina house on a hill where the neighbors down the road spoke in a slow southern drawl. The house had a sleeping porch and a front stoop overlooking green space, and my heart was happy. But it did not last. This too was taken away like my treasured metal doll house that would not fit in one more moving van.

We lived for many years in the home where my children grew up. In this place there was the pitter-pat of baby feet on terrazzo floors and trees hovering over our heads, planted in memory of special occasions and people. Even life among memories of spy-themed birthday parties for six year olds, graduation from high school celebrations and gathering to remember loved ones now gone was not strong enough to make the longing in my soul go away.

Now I know that home to me is more than a long stay and the right decorations; it is the place where my country soul can announce: this is where I belong. I had never been able to name or explain the longing until one day I read the thoughts of Maya Angelou. She knew what I had felt my entire life and explained it this way:

…The pace is more the pace of my spirit. I believe there is a country soul and a city soul. The city soul could be born on top of the great Smokies or on the Appalachian Trail, but when she sees the city, she says, ‘This is where I’m supposed to be.’ Then there’s the country soul who could be born on Times Square, but when he sees the country, he says, ‘This is where I’m supposed to be.

No truer words had I ever read than those lines. Maya Angelou knew what the ache in my soul was about and had expressed it precisely.

I now have my own connection to a home and land of my own. My soul has settled. A painted plaque proclaiming in bold black letters, This is Where I Belong, hangs on the screened porch over the back door in celebration of each homecoming. As Maya Angelou said, though, it’s about more than the place, it’s about the pace. My spirit’s pace and the pace of this place are in harmony. From the moment I open the crooked metal cattle gate that leads me from dirt driveway to dirt paths, my heart settles down. In this place I sit in a lawn chair under a granddaddy oak with branches bowing over land and home, threatening her, defending her, and I look out over the lawn that the boys who are now men like to mow in straight rows. I see an arched oak knocked down by a storm posing as an invitation to little boys and I hear the twitter of birds that whistle, you’re pretty-you’re pretty-you’re pretty. This place is a stopping point along the highway for many, but for me it is home, encircled by wood and wire for protection, and to protect. Home is where my soul knows its home.