Our Heart of the Home theme in this issue brought back a flood of memories about my first holiday away from home.
When my college roommate, Janet, first made her invitation, I was thrilled to accept. Spend the Christmas holidays at her home in Mississippi? Absolutely. I had never been to Mississippi before, and best of all, it would beat going to my own home for yet another Christmas. After all, I had done that for 19 years, wasn’t it about time to branch out?
My mother might have objected, but possibly not. This was during the dark days of our relationship when she most likely sighed with relief at the idea of not having my know-it-all, college-girl rebellion invading her happy home. She and Daddy had their first Christmas alone together in decades – and were probably happy to see me safely engaged elsewhere.
I was energized by anticipation and a keen sense of adventure through my preparation for the trip, our dash through the airport in Oklahoma City to catch the plane, and our bumpy landing at the Jackson, Mississippi, airport. Then, suddenly, loneliness jumped on me like a wet hound and dogged my footsteps the remainder of the visit.
The trigger that launched this loneliness was the warm greetings among my roommate and her parents. They were so happy to see each other, and so comfortable in one another’s company. Though they were friendly to me, their intimacy and warmth simply underscored my status as The Other. (I will say that I have never been better fed in my entire life. Janet’s mother was a prototypical Southern cook.)
Despite their graciousness, throughout that long weekend, I was lonely. I missed Dad reading the King James version of Jesus’ birth, and I missed the mouthwatering flavor of my mom’s very particular turkey-and-dressing recipe. I even missed my domineering older sisters, who always had an idea of how the dishes should be done, which always involved me washing.
My parents and I eventually mended fences, and I found my way back to the fold. Since that lonely holiday, however, I have never lost that sense of being a Stranger in a Strange Land, and I have taken to heart my faith’s long tradition of welcome and hospitality for those who “aren’t from here.”
These days, I think we all could use some reminders about being compassionate and welcoming. To thrive as a community, and as a nation, the center must hold, and civility and compromise are at the very core of the idea of community. Many of the stories in our Heart of the Home section underscore that point: The kindness of strangers is often what helped turn a lonesome story into one of community.
In her article, “Building Community in the Country” (Page 70), author Wanda Urbanska provides useful, practical information for ex-urbanites moving to smaller or rural communities. It’s important to listen more than talk, she writes, and to get involved and to not take sides.
It’s all great advice, but I’d like to add that if we want rural America to thrive, we might want to look on the other side of the equation and consider our relationship to the newcomers. We could all be a little more conscious about putting out the welcome mat. Being a stranger can be awfully uncomfortable, and a little graciousness goes a very long way.
K.C. Compton, Editor in Chief