I sat in the back seat having an easy conversation with my great friend, Mary as her husband navigated the narrow curved roads in the backwoods of Western Tennessee. Her son road shotgun. I stopped midsentence when I gazed out the window to find my new home come into view.
Decades of searching for where I belong suddenly paled into insignificance. I was home. As I walked around the home, I didn’t care about the architecture, though it was excellent and well planned. Instead, my attention went to the people who surrounded me.
After decades of coming home to a quiet and empty place, the house I would soon be hanging my hat was filled with people. Real, genuine, good, fun-loving people who were not only gracious, they welcomed me with open arms. Friends. New neighbors. They treated me like one of their own.
After taking care of business, we traveled a short distance to reunite with war hero Willie Shelton. He was as humble and gracious as he’d been when I met him two years ago. We talked like old friends in the house that Mary grew up in. When I met her twin sister, she acted as though we’d known each other for years.
The next day, I needed to run some errands. Mary’s son willingly offered his jeep so I would not have to take my truck. I’d developed a slight infection in my hand and made a quick trip to urgent care for antibiotics. They treated me like I’d been a patient of theirs for eons. When I went to get the prescription filled, the cashier at Walmart asked to step down to the other end of the counter so the pharmacist could put my medication in a bag for me. Though puzzled, I did as I was told and the pharmacist approached me eagerly and told me much more than I needed to know about the simple antibiotic.
I mentioned my encounter to Mary and she looked at me as if I’d just grown a second nose. She told me that was pretty much common place around Tennessee. I’d never experienced that in the decades I spent in the Sunshine State. She recommended I get used to it.
Over the past two years, I’ve traveled in all 48 continuous states and Canada. Most were beautiful. All were unique but they just were not home. Truth be told, I’ve been on a journey my entire life trying to find home. I visited places, would like what I saw and would pray, “God, is this home?” Nothing ever fit. Because of how I grew up, I vowed that when I turned eighteen, I would call wherever I lived home. Unfortunately, I was in Florida. Florida is a wonderful place but it’s just not for me. I spent decades being true to my childhood vow. I resided in that state for a long time… an eternity to spend in a place that never felt like I belong.
Today I have a place to call home. Really, truly home. It’s not in the Great Lone Star State of Texas where I used to ride horses and play with cows. Nor is it in the Sunshine State, where I grudgingly walked through hot sand for over forty years. It’s in the Tennessee hills, a land rich in history. My home is where men fought and died for what they believed in, and forged the backbone of this great nation we call America. Strangely, my heart has been here for quite some time. I just did not know it.
For the first time in my life, when I started Dusty and pulled out onto the open road again, I did so with a twinge in my heart. I could have stayed longer. One more walk through the countryside. Another dinner and sharing life with amazing people.
I’ll look forward to coming home again. Until then, I’ll learn to wear orange without thinking it’s a Florida Gator, make plans and dream about my next Tennessee Homecoming.