Back in the summer, #3 son, his three older children (seventeen, fifteen, and eleven), and I “toured” my home town. His youngest, only six, stayed home; she’ll have to get the genealogy tour later, when she’s ready. Son wanted the grandchildren to learn about where I—and by extension, they—came from.
I worried that in Pontotoc, Mississippi, a town nestled in the red clay hills near Oxford (the home of Ole Miss), there’s not much to see: the square, now virtually stripped of the old trees I remember, with its Confederate monument. The store my dad once owned, now an antique shop. A museum housed in the post office, itself an historical building. The house where I grew up, and the one where my parents lived later.
It turned out to be a drizzling, sticky day, and I must admit when we left the hotel in Oxford that morning, I didn’t have high hopes. I anticipated bored kids and a general disappointment with grandmother’s roots.
I was wrong.
As we drove through town, I pointed out landmarks: the square, the courthouse (hard to miss), my dad’s store, the store on the corner that had once been my uncle’s grocery, the flaking ghost of an old painted grocery ad still evident on the side of the building.
After the post office museum where we spent maybe half an hour and the women volunteers told the kids stories and connected with me—”Now, you’re so-and-so’s daughter?”—we stopped by the Presbyterian church I grew up in. I had emailed the church ahead of time and learned that its doors are never locked; we were welcome to drop by any time. No one was there, but we walked right in.
I had not been inside that church since my grandmother’s funeral in 1994. Indeed, my last three visits there had been for funerals, so maybe that gloom had affected my memories of the place.
This time, I was stunned by how beautiful and meticulously maintained the church is: the polished dark woodwork. The breathtaking stained glass windows. At the back of the sanctuary, the tall folding doors with the same stained glass that, during my childhood, partitioned it off and made it smaller and better suited to the congregation. The only times I ever saw those doors open were for weddings and funerals. They are a magnificent work of art and architecture tucked away in this unpretentious place.
It had never occurred to me to ask about the history of the stained glass; isn’t that terrible? But history means more to me as I get older. I intend to find out, and I will certainly share it with my children and grandchildren.
We explored: we lingered in the prayer room at the back of the sanctuary, its walls lined with books. We went upstairs to the room where I dressed for my first wedding when I was twenty-one years old.
So many memories for me. The kids responded with curiosity, love, and awe. They listened to my stories. They opened doors, peeked in nooks, touched things–the books, the glass, the dark wood–not in a bad way, but as though they wanted to take something of this place away with them and lock it in their memories, too.
There’s a photo I didn’t share here: one of me with the three grandchildren, standing in the narthex of the church. That one is private, a connection to them and a precious time we shared.
If you have not “gone home” lately, I encourage you to do it. More importantly, go with someone you love. Share the place. Share the stories.
If this piece inspires you to remember, share a memory here in a comment. If it inspires you to write a post, share your link. I would love to read about your special, remembered places.