Not so pretty

  • Aperture: f/11
  • Focal Length: 105mm
  • ISO: 200
  • Shutter: 1/250 sec
  • Camera: NIKON D80

Columbus, Mississippi

Columbus is filled with beautiful things. These tracks are not among them. They are a detour. A side road on the way to something better.

After a weekend here, my head is a jumble of lovely antebellum homes, priceless antiques, lush lawns, and the kind of slow, languid Southern accents that put my own guttural drawl to shame. Of all the things Columbus has going for it as a city — and trust me, it has a fine repository from which to draw — its biggest asset are the people themselves. They welcomed me with open arms, and the best I could do was murmur thanks.

I’m not a small person. I’d rather face a Russian firing squad than squeeze my oversized body into a tiny room filled with fragile heirlooms. Staircases, of which there are many in this town, leave me winded and red-faced. Sweat-drenched. Timberlands are the only boots I’ve found comfortable enough to get me through more than a few hours. I haven’t worn a dress since the day they stopped looking good on me. No matter what I wear, I always seem to look faintly disheveled. Wind-blown. Messy. It’s hard to stand in front of a “true” Southern belle without wilting under her radiance, and yet, no one batted an eyelash.

I was born almost as far South as you can get, in the coastal city of Mobile, which celebrates its 305th birthday this year. I grew up eating grits for breakfast, gumbo at Christmas, banana pudding on birthdays, and biscuits every chance I could get. College education, six weeks in Boston, and Yankee friends notwithstanding, I find myself frequently uttering the following phrases: “Thank ya’ll;” “Has the mail ran?” and “It’s colder’n hell in here.”

And yet there’s no belle in my Southern. I clop my shoes on the floor like a barnyard horse. I get too loud when I’m excited. My hands are rough, my nails non-existent. My skin is ruddy, a persistent shirt-collar redness acquired the summer I spent a week shooting college softball every day. I love sweet tea but would just as soon you leave the frou-frou greenery out of it, and for the love of God, please don’t defile it with a wedge of lemon, a spritz of raspberry, or any other abomination. My hair refuses to do anything but frizz in the humidity. My body refuses to come near a corset, though I once owned one and loved the ritual of tying the laces before slipping on my favorite black dress.

And yet for all my faults, for all my inadequacies, I was hugged, loved, fawned over. I’m not really used to a lot of attention. It overwhelms me sometimes. Moves me to tears.

As my time in Columbus draws to a close, I’m filled with an inexplicable longing for a way of life that will never be. There are no white gloves in my dresser drawer, no ribbons for my hair. I wouldn’t know what to do with such things if I had them. I have no family lineage to boast, no connections to deeper roots than your common pine. I don’t belong anywhere. I wanted to live out of suitcases, and I do. But sometimes, especially in a town with as strong a sense of place as Columbus, I find my spirit tugging and the tears fall quickly, often. The Southerner in me walks the land and feels the calling, feels the pain and cries for the unbearable sweetness, the excruciating agony, that is life and love.

Music: Breathe Me by Sia (lyrics)

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