When I’m buried beneath book stacks at the Bodleian, or curled up in the JCR at Regent’s Park with a cup of tea, and I feel that tightness in my chest called “homesickness”, I think fondly on my southern home. Georgia is a fair-sized state on the eastern coast of the United States just above Florida. A lovely, warm place, Georgia is where the best peaches in the country are grown, where pecans are regularly shelled and baked into pies or roasted with salt and eaten by the handful, and where sweet honeysuckles grow thick on vines across the faded red-brick buildings and along the dull white of picket fences.
When I’m home, I can feel the sunshine on my skin, the hot sunshine that washes over me and darkens the freckles on my arms and cheeks. Dusty Georgia clay cakes the soles of my flip-flops and my toes as I walk along the side of the creek bank, bluegrass and dandelions tickling my feet. There are fruit stands on the side of the highway in front of the flea market, the cluster of stalls in a dirt lot selling worn clothes, old toys, and newborn chicks. The fruit stands are bulky, boxes made of cheap wood with rusted tin roofs and hand-painted signs. Fresh Fruit. Pick Your Own Strawberries. Boiled Peanuts $5.00.
During the Georgia summers, weekends are divided between afternoons at the lake and evenings inside my grandparents’ screened-in back porch, sipping sweet, iced tea from sweaty glasses, slick with condensation, as the clouds darken and lightning strikes across the velvet sky warning of the thunderstorms to come. Andersonville, the quaint, antebellum town my grandparents call home, is so small that the entire town is comprised of a single street on which there is a post office, a Civil War museum, an ice cream shop, and an old school house that now hosts an antique store. My sister and I would walk the two miles from my grandparents’ house to Church Street. We would follow the train tracks that ran through the countryside as far as Triple Creek, before doubling back to grab a strawberry cone at Patsy’s ice cream shop. Every summer we would meander through the antique store, and every summer there would be a few new pieces – a wooden jewelry box that plays a tune, a set of silver utensils, a pair of glass Coca Cola bottles – and a few pieces would be missing, but overall, the school house antique store would always remain unchanged.
On those weekends at the lake, the day is spent boat riding. The boat speeds across the surface of the water before stopping in a little alcove beneath a red and white striped lighthouse – the perfect swimming hole. My family and I linger in the hidden cove, swimming and playing, music bursting from the boat’s radio, a cooler full of water, sweet tea, and cold cokes open and available, until the sun begins to set. Then, we climb back into the boat and retreat to shore for a summer barbeque. We dine on picnic tables covered with checkered cloths, scented candles lit to keep mosquitoes and gnats off the food. There are fried pickles and coleslaw and sweet, cream corn. There is tangy, pulled-pork barbeque that has been slow roasted in a crock pot overnight.
This is served on toasted, buttered buns with a slice of pickle and a fresh glass of tea. For dessert, there is apple pie and peach cobbler with a scoop of Blue Bell vanilla ice cream. We eat there, at our picnic tables by the water, until the moon is high above the lake and the crickets and cicadas begin to sing.
The winter months do not bring much change for the South. The summer rains pass and a cold chill settles over the Appalachian Mountains in North Georgia. Rather than journey to the lake, I gather with my family in the back yard for nightly bonfires. Lawn chairs and porch swings haphazardly form a circle around the roaring fire. Tree branches are used for roasting rods, hot dogs and marshmellows crammed on the ends and cooked over the red-orange-yellow flame of the bonfire.
Now that I’ve returned to Oxford, I have traded those cool nights around a bonfire for freezing walks between pubs, and sporadic summer rainstorms for a constant winter drizzle. While I miss my southern home, I’ve found these differences not unwelcome, and, I suspect, when I return to my sleepy Georgia town, these are the little things that I will miss about Oxford.
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