Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dixieland Calling

Every year, about this time, I get homesick for the south. More than any other time of year, fall makes me miss the place where my roots began and my heart belongs. Nothing really cures it and that's fine by me.  Like most southerners, I take a certain pleasure in nursing these things and looking back with longing.

Maybe it's football. Those that know me know I don't really love the game itself. But I do love the sound and feel of it and the memories it brings. I've attended dozens of games, great ones, but never really been captured by the sport. But the event of it, well, that's quite different.  It began with my grandfather's radio perched on the rail of his back porch. We'd listen to Auburn play, just two hours away down a stretch of west Georgia blacktop, through sleepy towns and past cotton fields and sugar cane. Listening to the game, we'd shuck corn for my grandmother or I'd play with his dogs, Tiger and Beau, while he tinkered with a pocket knife, cigar clamped in his mouth and a faraway look in his eye. 

Later, as an Auburn student, game day was the highlight of my week. We'd be packed shoulder to shoulder, girls in sundresses and boys in their khakis and colorful ties, secretly pouring bourbon into our stadium cups, grinning and singing the fight song at the tops of our lungs, squinting into the blue and copper autumn sky as our eagle soared high in a circle and the jets from Montgomery thundered above us, leaving a vibration in our chests and a lump in our throats.

Those games were an event like no other. It began when the alums arrived on campus in an endless caravan of motor homes on Thursday afternoon. We'd exchange "heys" and "War Eagles" as we walked past their elaborate campouts on our way home from classes. We knew we were always welcome at somebody's Aunt Lucy or great Uncle Jimmy 's makeshift table for homemade fried chicken and tales of our school from generations past. We weren't just fellow fans of a great football team to them, we were somebody's children and they treated us like family. Friday came at last with a huge pep rally, maybe a parade or bonfire, theme parties to dress up for and ended with bus rides to the Supper Club on the edge of town and dancing until the wee hours. Saturday began waking up to the sound of the marching band's drum section echoing over campus and hair dryers and telephones ringing in the sorority house, to the boom and sway of the massive crowd in the stands, cheers and fight songs sung by thousands in unison, all the way to the final band standing in a fraternity's back yard belting out their last song. It came drifting through our open windows, muted and mingled with distant laughter, sending us off to sleep. Sweet Home Alabama. To us it was and always will be.

Now, my boys text back and forth with their grandmother during Auburn games, typing things like "did you see that??" and "War Eagle!!" with little football emoticons. I can hear them shouting at the t.v. and analyzing plays. I don't need to watch every game. Hearing the sounds of it is enough for me.

So when the days grow shorter, the nights cooler and the sky turns copper, my mind goes back to that place. Past tall pines, huge live oaks, slow moving rivers and towns long forgotten, down a lonely stretch of interstate and into the welcoming arms of the loveliest village on the plains.