I didn’t hear the call, but I may not have been listening. I think my husband heard it soon after he heard the insistent invitation from Uncle Sam to join the Army. Al carried the thought with him during a whole career that one day he would come home. Home for him had an address with “MS” before the zip code. Whatever the cause, as we neared retirement, the call to return home to Mississippi brought urgency in his conversations. I didn’t hear it.
I remembered his coaxing yesterday as I drove through the streets of Hattiesburg and out the rural Lamar County road to the library. This Mississippi world seemed to be a veritable canopy of every conceivable shade of green banked against a deep blue sky with puffy white clouds. I headed home, knowing my back yard had the same spread of oak, sweet gum, pine, hickory nut, and more, interspersed with privet hedge filling the neighborhood with a sweet aroma – and let me not forget the magnolia bursting into bloom out front. Place is important to writers, and I couldn’t imagine another I’d rather call mine.
I’ve wondered in these fourteen years since we returned to our home state why he heard that call, and I didn’t. I’ve come up with a couple of theories. Perhaps it was because his roots were deeper than mine from having lived his first twenty-four years in the same house. My address, like his, had always ended with “MS” before the zip code, but I’d lived in at least fifteen houses in various locations in the northeast corner of the state. My roots were shallow.
The other reason may have been that I have loved each place we lived. Looking back, each seems to have been the right place at the right time for our stage of life and the ages of our children. Six states and three countries outside the US have been home for the time designated by the Army. I worried little about which two letters came before the zip code or if there was an APO address instead.
But yesterday, it occurred to me to be grateful that Al made me listen until I heard the call and its chorus “Hattiesburg . . . Hattiesburg . . . Hattiesburg.” My shallow roots have taken hold in this Mississippi clay and burrowed deep. My hearing has also improved. I can hear my porch swing’s invitation to come with my book and savor the green and the sweet aroma. This time I need no coaxing to answer.