Some of the most vivid memories of my Gen X childhood are of the South. The best of these memories was going on a road trip with my great aunt and uncle from their home in small town Louisiana to their vacation house that was propped up on stilts of cinder blocks near the beach in Biloxi, Mississippi. The little house contained mix-matched furniture and worn pots and pans leftover from 1950s camping trips.
Sometimes here in the Pacific Northwest, when the day is a little too long, or rainy, or cold, I think about the smell of ocean or barbecued shrimp drifting through warm, balmy air. I find myself longing for the sights and sounds of streets lined with Gulf-port hotels, antebellum homes, and sunburned people.
Since the Fireflies at Dusk project began, I have found myself thinking a lot about the South. Several weeks ago, my family went out for southern food and it brought me a certain happiness that I had almost forgotten. We were immersed in the smell of ribs being smoked. Our table was covered in corn-on-the-cob, beans, and coleslaw, while the smiling people across from us dined on pecan pie.
This week, a close friend of mine came over for southern food. She lived a lot her growing-up years in Georgia, so we share childhood memories of the South. We feasted on a spread representing all the regions of the South and chased it all down with sweet tea.
As I try to make peace with my Gen X childhood, I find myself gathering up remnants of the cultures that made me who I am. I will always remember watching my Southern-born great uncle standing at the mirror shaving and talking, passing on pieces of his unbounded wit and storytelling - letting it infiltrate my consciousness as a priceless inheritance. I will never forget my older second cousin teaching me the unspoken code of the heart of hospitality that can only be shown and not explained. In her garage hung the giant butterfly costume she'd wear on visits to local nursing homes. She'd take me swimming and then offer me watermelon and fried chicken to devour afterward for lunch. I think about these amazing people that I loved so much, that have now passed on to the other side, just as I think about that little vacation house as it was swept off its stilts by the force of Hurricane Katrina.
Any kid who is in and out of multiple cultures, getting moved in and out of several different schools, usually gets singled-out in some way, especially if you've brought with you the accent or some other baggage of the last place you lived. If you are Gen X, I can guarantee that you probably felt misplaced or discarded at one point or another. You know the feeling of being 'a man without a country.' Because of the decisions of others, because of divorce or remarriage, or the military, or the economy, or because your family was so rough that you had to run away, you most likely lived in many different places.
Gen Xers with tough childhoods sometimes want to block out any memory of their childhood altogether. I have decided there is a better alternative: taking back the memories that are rightfully yours. Reclaim the good parts in spite of the bad and bring back to life the parts that were happy and peaceful - even if those parts were only a small part of your experience.
I remember peacefully floating on my back in the Gulf of Mexico at that Biloxi beach, staring at the gray sky - letting my body become weightless in the water made me feel that not only was I connected to the earth, but that I was made of the same substance. The feeling of connection made me believe that I would truly have a place in the world - somewhere, someday. Upon moving from one place and situation to another, and another, when I was not accepted by the people around me, I could always find my solace in the landscape. That is where I could sense God.
I can name a hundred ways in which our generation got the shaft.
But I think the greatest gift our generation received was the opportunity to experience so many different cities and landscapes. When you have been exposed to many different places, it changes you - it makes you less narrow, less limited.
The not staying still made you who you are.
Keep moving forward.
If Gen X has been a lost, or wandering or displaced generation, then our curse was our blessing.
Recipe for Chloe's Organic Sugar-Free Southern Tea
Magnolia tea leaves
Organic fresh mint
Bring two cups of water to a rolling boil. Put into a tea pot or glass measuring cup
with at least two or three tea bags depending on how strong you like it.
Steep for 10 minutes.
Fill a pitcher to the top with ice.
Put in five droppers full of liquid stevia.
Pour the tea over the ice and pour in more cold water to top it off.
Serve over more ice in glasses. Add more drops of stevia to taste to get it even sweeter!
Garnish with mint. Drink with eyes closed and a smile. Enjoy!
(c) 2011 Photo, writing, and recipe by Chloe - all rights reserved.