By Mark Scott
Whenever I hear Chris Daughtry’s song “Home” it brings up conflicted emotions within me. Emotions of place. Both lost and found.
Lost, like the year I took down those blue Christmas lights like a lunatic, swearing never again to wrap lights around my corner’s ornamental corkscrew cheery tree. Found, like that very same year, when I discovered a chosen family.
I am that person who has lost what most take for granted – the DNA family — which is odd given my life-long fascination with genealogy. That fascination has been tempered with an equal fascination and desire for a sense of place.
The neighborhood (place) that I call home is that long slow dip on Central Avenue where the cars tend to increase their velocity to beat the light at the top of the next hill. That dip, now part of the buried groundwater system of Memphis was once known as Lick Creek, part of which you still see at the zoo. It is also what stops traffic in heavy rainstorms when the waters back up and form what I call Lake Barksdale – temporarily closing the corridor to the zooming traffic. Little did I know that the people who call this little dip in the road home would become my chosen family.
We tend to identify our neighborhoods with the names of streets, especially intersections – think Cooper-Young or Vollintine-Evergreen. In some cases, we subdivide those into still smaller pieces of real estate and that is the case with the place I call home – Central at Barksdale. Our little intersection of Central Gardens was built for the automobile. This is evident with the presence of a port-a-cochere attached to what I lovingly refer to as “that pile of bricks on the corner.”
In case you were wondering, port-a-cochere is just a fancy way to say carport. Mine sits at an angle to the house and juts out towards our neighborhood’s intersection and has that small ornamental corkscrew cherry – the one with the lights – to show it off.
However, neighborhoods are not made of intersections but by the people who call them home.
Every Christmas I decorate the ornamental corkscrew cherry tree at the intersection with lights. In 2008, I had no inkling of how they would come to describe my mood in the days that followed. Dysfunctional is a term that is probably overused, however; it adequately describes my DNA family. That Christmas I grudgingly called home at the request of my dad to talk to my mom. Three days later the hospital called. They were searching for my mom but could only find me. My father was dying that night and I hadn’t even been told that he was in the hospital. You can imagine the dysfunction and drama that followed – its fascinatingly morbid but not the image that is forever cemented in my mind.
Returning home from the hospital I saw the little tree with blue lights glowing through the darkness of pre-dawn. Those festive lights seemed to be an afront to all that I was feeling. That, I knew was in my power to control. I swore never again and at sunrise I quickly tore down the lights. The way they were wrapped it was obvious that a crazy person had installed them – that would be me. One neighbor stopped to chat. She had lived there longer than the rest of us and, even though a recluse, knew when something was wrong. She noticed, stopped, and talked.
The funeral was New Year’s Eve. I didn’t go. I needed to be with my chosen family not the one that I was related too. I spent that cold winter morning next door with a three year old. I’ve always thought of him as my nephew. We played as his parents prepared for a midnight celebration. I was watching him so they could prepare – in reality he was watching me- that’s what a family does. I hadn’t lost anything. I had found a neighborhood of people that became my family. A family that knew me, loved me, and supported me in a time of agony. They’ve been there in the good times as well.
The family has grown to multiple houses centered on that intersection of Central at Barksdale. Oh, and those Christmas lights that I swore to never put up again to ease what had been lost. The little boy missed them the following year. Those lights were a landmark for his holiday. It was then that I realized that those lights and little tree were not a symbol of what had been lost, but a sign of what had been found and I immediately wrapped them around that little tree in a way that a crazy person would. Our neighborhood is a place where we love each other, look out for one another and no one gets left behind as the world zooms by down that long slow dip on Central trying to beat the light. <>
Mark Scott is now in his 33rd year of education in Memphis. He is a Midtowner.