- Front Porch
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In late July, I pulled on well-worn leather gloves and dove into the looming task of weeding my mother's beloved roses. My mother sat on the front porch, too weak from recent surgery to tend her gardens, but still strong enough to supervise the work. My youngest daughter toddled around the lawn nearby. I was home, if only for a week or so, breathing the fresh mountain air and soaking in the New Mexican landscape that stirred up fond memories of childhood. The people and the very place itself—its economic, social, and cultural structures—had forged the core of my personal beliefs, philosophies, and politics. Yet in spite of my nostalgia, borrowing the words of North Carolinian Thomas Wolfe, you can't go home again: "my" room had long since been redone; the town had changed radically in [End Page 1] the decades since I last walked its streets as a resident, and in most instances, the people who had shaped me as teachers, mentors, and friends had moved or passed away. My relationships with those who remained had been irrevocably altered by the intervening years and the journeys I had taken since leaving. As I dug in the still familiar dirt, I thought about what it meant to have come of age in that place, what I had taken with me from there, and what I now brought back.
This issue of Southern Cultures invites and even challenges its readers to similar contemplations. Our authors tell tale after tale of coming of age, along the way querying what it means to be at home, and how the movement of people—especially young people—across fixed geographies is both formative and transformative. The essays offer portraits, fleeting and extended, of youth maturing in the crucible of the South at various times in history. Even within those essays whose main theses focus elsewhere, we find tucked away fragments of those narratives. And each essay highlights local peculiarities, suggesting that our definitive experiences come not from the identity of a monolithic region but, rather, from the details overlooked in our too-frequent generalizations about the capital-S South.
Charles Perrow's recollections of Black Mountain College and Pepper Capps Hill's reminiscences of working in the tobacco fields take us on very personal journeys into the authors' pasts. Just after World War II, Perrow hitchhiked to a "dynamic, explosive, self-destructive hothouse" of a college—an outpost of brilliant minds, liberal thinking, integration, and sex, presented in the trappings of higher education and located in North Carolina. The army veteran's reconstruction of the two short years he spent there contrasts sharply (and wonderfully) with the better-known tales of northeastern-raised youth of the Folk Revival hitchhiking to North Carolina in search of some imagined Appalachian primitive culture a decade later. Hill contemplates her own youth in North Carolina, much of which was spent in the tobacco fields in the sort of intense and health-damaging physical labor that gives me pause as a mother. Would she send her children out to labor in such conditions? Yes, she answers unequivocally, for the work ethic, strength, sense of camaraderie, and respect it instills. Would I send my own children? I don't know. And do students arrive at college today thirsting for the challenges and intellectual stimulation that Perrow vividly recalls more than sixty years later? I'd like to think so.
The impact of war on one's coming of age resurfaces in two different centuries. Carolyn Osborn recounts the disruption and dislocation, both familial and geographic, brought on by World War II, and John Coffey brings to life the character of Wharton J. Green in the years leading up to the Civil War. The details...