Not just whistling Dixie

We’ve actually had quite a few bolters in my family, though most died before I came along. Disappointingly, no one appears to have high-tailed it due to scandal. Leaving home in hopes of finding perspective or power is a univeral tradition, but considering how much my family talks there’s a dearth of narratives about the wanderers. Who looked at expectations and felt they could tell the end of their story before it started? Who looked at the furrows, stared at the plow, and realized they needed to take off running?

Other than my grandmother, that is.

Her life story may have gained in complexity over the years, but once she was just a girl who ran North at 17, a girl determined to find an identity that had little to do with the one she was leaving behind.

As a pre-teen, I was fascinated by her past behavior. No doubt she was a fun grandmother—and a young grandmother—but she wasn’t particularly spontaneous; like all the other women who floated in and out of my life, she was firmly embedded in her domestic and workplace duties. Her life was full of daily routines, her escapism seemingly limited to cigarettes and romance novels. During visits I’d eavesdrop on the grownup chatter about jobs and kids and money and remind myself, “Once she just up and LEFT everything she knew!”

Sure, both of my parents had moved away from their hometowns. Somehow, though, it wasn’t the same. They had boring middle-class reasons for leaving: college, jobs. Structure awaited them. The unknown called to her.

Being smart and vivacious in wartime America meant she had more than a few opportunities for adventure. Hers never strayed from the civilian variety—unless wholesome frolics with men in uniform count. And among all the soldiers and squids milling about, she managed to fall for a Yankee. Not a fairy-tale Yankee with old money and a penthouse on the upper East Side, either; just a good-looking, good-natured guy with modest prospects and ambitions.

Marrying him meant she ended up further north. Whatever regrets she may have about her life with my grandfather and her life without him, she seemingly has few regrets about the location: after 7 decades her siblings have yet to entice her back for anything more than fleeting visits.

Of course vestiges of her Deep South past loiter: there’s the accent that grows stronger after a little bourbon, the backlog of magazines which celebrate all things (genteelly) Confederate, the generous hospitality visitors receive no matter how brief the stay.

But she’s transplanted herself into a different life, a place where winter means snow and she’s nobody’s daughter, nobody’s sister, nobody’s disappointment. She’s just herself, a hybrid who hasn’t always thrived, but has grown to be part of the landscape.

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