I've Got the Fever

When my mom was in high school, she moved with her family from blue-collar Scranton, Pennsylvania to a sprawling rambler on a quiet, wooded lot in Memphis, Tennessee. Johnny Cash, then a rising star on the country music scene, lived across the street; it was a new world for my mom and her three younger siblings. While my aunt and uncles took to the South, adopting the drawl and traditions like they were born to them, my mom loathed the Southern culture of the 1960s, the prevalent racism and bigotry, the lack of opportunities for women. In search of progress, feminism and open-minds, she followed a well-worn path to freedom and scampered North as soon as she turned 18.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the concept of home and all that it implies, and it’s interesting to me that my mom and my aunt, who are exactly one year to the day apart, who were raised with the same opportunities and experiences, grew up to find their homes in such vastly different places, among such different traditions and beliefs and ideas about right and wrong.

I grew up in the mid-Atlantic, which I love deeply and consider my home. I’m proud to say that I’m from Pittsburgh, with its history of hard work and ability to keep generations of families living in the same neighborhood. It’s the only place I lived as a child, so I have no context for whether it’s better or worse than anywhere else, but I can say this for sure: I had the opportunity to grow up exactly where my parents wanted to raise their family. They chose their home, and there’s something to that for me, something to knowing where you belong, to understanding that you’re at home in one culture and an alien in another.

Still, though, there’s a bit of the South in me, as much as my leftist politics and feminist tendencies make it seem otherwise. But we absorb our parents’ beliefs—what they love as well as all they resist. And though I grew up hearing horror stories about the injustice of Memphis in the 60s, I also saw pictures of oak and chestnut-lined avenues, of flowers so verdant you could almost feel that dripping, sweet humidity right through the Polaroid.

I love that humidity, that lushness, that sweetness, and it’s springtime—when the mid-Atlantic takes on those Southern characteristics—that I think of home the most.

Or else, it could be all that spring recalls for me: State College, Pennsylvania; runoff feeding Spring Creek; muddy trails in Rothrock State Forest; Dave Matthews; West Virginia; the smell of grass; and the first warm evening of the year, when my friends and I flocked to the patio of Café 210 West to drink long island iced teas around small glass tables and watch people walk down College Avenue. Even when graduation was within easy reach—just one paper or exam away—those evenings were sacred enough to render us, usually so focused on the future, fully present.

Indeed, similar languid evenings in my backyard now seem the only antidote to my constant need to be somewhere else.

But it’s all relative, and a few years ago the Café was torn down in favor of, I don’t know, an Abercrombie and Fitch or something. It’s not that big a deal, of course; it’s happening all over the country—soulful, single-owner places being razed in favor of chain stores, diversity yielding to homogeneity.

Still, though, this illustrates how so much—music, home, seasons—is so intimate, so specific to a person, place or time. My association with, say, Crush, is different than anyone else’s; it means something different to me, because while yes, it’s just a song, it’s also the spring of 1999, Ben and Sean and Bethany, long trail runs, long bike rides, drumming sessions with my friend Melissa, handmade patchwork halters, pot-lucks, trampolines, sweat lodges, wonder, possibility, that nervous and sickening feeling you get when everything is about to change.

It’s all those things, you see, so poignant that even now, 10 years later, they are my springtime traditions. I’ve been listening to Dave Matthews in a near continuous stream, all the while enjoying ridiculously strong cocktails and making plans to visit Pennsylvania, trail run with friends, play music, dance, go to concerts, smell grass and flowers and close my eyes and want to be nowhere else.

At no other time of year am I this grounded, this certain about what I want to be doing. I love spring.


John said...

Razing Cafe 210 for an A&F? No, didn't happen. JoePa has to buy his fitted tees in Lewistown.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you're back - love this very well-written post.

Missing the Burgh here right now with the Stanley Cup in full swing.... but quite glad to live in a state that has outlawed box stores, even if I secretly miss Target.

Dave Matthews and spring... for me he's more summer... do you have a soundtrack for every season? I do. :-)

Melissa Mehler said...

This is a wonderful site Kate, I love your writing. After this particular entry I can't stop reminiscing about my undergrad years! Hey, remember Webster's Bookstore & Cafe? You'll be happy to hear they're still open and even have a second location :)

Cindy said...

Cafe 210 gone? Really? I drank my fair share of Long Island teas there as well.

For some reason I have in northern California an oddly large group of friends from PA--most from Pittsburgh. Many of them knew each other growing up or in college, and they migrated out here in several waves. Good people. I should have known you were from there as well. :)