By David Merrill
Hiraeth is a Welsh concept of longing for home. ‘Hiraeth’ is a word which cannot be completely translated, meaning more than solely “missing something” or “missing home.” It implies the meaning of missing a time, an era, or a person – including homesickness for what may not exist any longer.
With the exception of a seven year hiatus on the west coast, I am a life-long Memphian. Born at Baptist Hospital (now demolished), schooled at Immaculate Conception, Snowden jr. High and Central High and matriculated at Memphis State my experience was probably typical of many midtown kids.
School days, began on crisp fall mornings and gave way to sunny afternoons spent at classmates homes or my grandparents home on Forrest Ave., (now Forest Ave.) – times change.
My knowledge of Memphis culture and history was largely osmotic, the way I suspect it was for many. My father and grandfather, matter of factly pointing out landmarks and discussing Memphis history as plainly as most would discuss the weather. “That house, why that’s Boss Crump’s home – didn’t you know that?” Which would usually be followed with my grandaddy’s anecdotal stories of Boss Crump’s largess or good natured corruption, told with a grin.
I’ve lived long enough that my family stories dovetail with history and some historical figures. Should I tell you about the time that my mother inadvertently crashed Elvis and Pricilla’s New Year’s Eve Party or the night after Dr. King was assassinated, and my father was a rookie cop on foot patrol downtown? Most native Memphians might listen with a gisten in the eye, remembering their own experiences or those of their loved ones. We are a city of stories.
When I was away, in the self imposed exile of exploration – I was the most homesick person in the world at times. I dreamt of smelling hickory smoke and the taste of good ribs, remembering moments that might only make sense to a Memphian. The last show at the old Overton Park Shell, featuring one of my classmates father’s band, Mudboy and the Neutrons, summer nights wandering Beale St., when it had just re-opened and was tourist ready, of afternoons at the old White Way Pharmacy soda shop on Cleveland, midnights in high school at The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Plaza Theater and walks by the river, always the river. <>
David Merrill is a Memphian.