Jesmyn Ward: Why I Decided to Return Home to the South 

I am sharing a stunning reflection of returning home written by a Southern daughter who is quite aware of the awfulness that exists in America and especially in the American south.

As someone who is assisting my mother in wrapping up the details on the sale of my grandparent’s house just north of New Orleans, I understand her wish to return but more than that, the wish to offer roots to her family in the South. The culture of a family home is a real thing here, much more so than in other parts of the U.S. that I regularly visit.

With the sale of the family home , I know I will daydream about that acreage across the lake, remembering the cool, quiet mornings and the blinding afternoons with the cicadas screeching and the crawfish holes popping up across the “lawn” after a rain. The sound of the kitchen door opening, and the smell of the bar soap in the bathroom. Yet, the area around it is changing so quickly that the South that even I remember is fast disappearing, which must be viewed positively and negatively at the same time. Gone are the little stores with hot food and live bait and front porches. Gone too though is their Dixie memorabilia, although much of it is probably just tucked in backyards and closets. In the end, seeing the expanding whiteness of the citizens around Mandeville, more designed cul de sacs that often serve the same purpose as true gated communities, and fewer activities designed for all socioeconomic clusters that do remain in St. Tammany, I could not muster the interest to make an offer to my family to purchase this property.

So while I accept the reality that means my family’s history in that place has ended, I hope it has lasted long enough to anchor me in the South for the rest of my life. Or maybe Ward’s work will be able to stand in for Mandabita and keep me rooted.
Her words reminded me of Isek Dinesen’s mournful but tender words from “Out of Africa”:
If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?”

Excerpt from Why I Decided to Return Home to the South:

I like to imagine that one day, I will build a home of cement, a home built to weather the elements, in a clearing in a piney Southern wood, riven with oak and dogwood. I’d like a small garden where I could grow yellow squash and bell peppers in the summer, collards and carrots in the winter, and perhaps keep a few chickens. I wish for one or two kind neighbors who will return my headstrong bulldog if she wanders off, neighbors who I can gift a gallon of water in the aftermath of a hurricane. I like to think that after I die, my children will look at that place and see a place of refuge, of rest. I hope they do not flee. I hope that at least one of them will want to remain here in this place that I love more than I loathe, and I hope the work that I have done to make Mississippi a place worth living is enough. I hope they feel more themselves in this place than any other in the world, and that if they do leave, they dream of that house, that clearing, those woods, when they sleep.

Link to the entire piece:

Jesmyn Ward: Why I Decided to Return Home to the South | Time