“We will rise up from this place as though we had never been here in the first place, nesting within our sturdy hearts the neighbors we have come to love, but never, I think, looking back with longing on this geography where we have spent two years like air plants: suspended, yet self-nourished . . . in thin air.”—Elizabeth Boleman-Herring
By Way of Being
By Elizabeth Boleman-Herring
“Hermes is the god of the unexpected, of luck, of coincidence, of ‘synchronicity.’ The ancient Greeks would say: ‘Hermes has entered our midst,’ whenever a sudden silence had entered the room, descended on conversation and introduced into the meeting another dimension. Whenever things seem fixed, rigid, ‘stuck,’ Hermes introduces fluidity, motion, new beginnings—as well as the confusion which inevitably precedes new beginnings.”—Gisela Labouvie-Vief, Psyche and Eros: Mind and Gender in the Life Course.
PETIT TRIANON Florida—(Weekly Hubris)—August 2017—We’re packing again. Preparing to leave one house and build another. Uprooting: though the simple truth is we never took to earth in Florida, so there is no tap root here to identify and safeguard; no lateral roots to tear off and leave, weeping, in temporary soil. We will rise up from this place as though we had never been here in the first place, nesting within our sturdy hearts the neighbors we have come to love, but never, I think, looking back with longing on this geography where we have spent two years like air plants: suspended, yet self-nourished . . . in thin air.
Like us, many people are spiritual “aerophytes, which have no roots and grow on shifting desert soil. Generally, the thinner-leafed varieties grow in rainy areas and the thick-leafed varieties in areas more subject to drought. Most species absorb moisture and nutrients through the leaves from rain, dew, dust, decaying leaves, and insect matter . . . .”
Thinner-leafed—that would be us. Insect matter? Oh, there were vast quantities of it in Florida.
So, here we are, again, taping up U-Haul boxes of all sizes and breaking down to transport some $5,000. worth of shelving for books, LPs, and CDs (the thousands of which are already boxed up and sealed away in climate-controlled storage).
After our many solo moves over two long lifetimes, and our very recent significant move together, we’ve become virtual quartermasters. Selling a house; discarding and packing and storing: this, we can do, together, without missing a beat. We could, in fact, now do it for a living. It’s easy, packing the baskets with the hats with the shoes.
What’s difficult, for us both, is making sense of why we came here in the first place; even temporarily. We’re not alone in arriving in and then departing from Florida in short order: many, many people in late middle age relocate from, say, Manhattan to Orlando, only to turn right around and go “half-back.”
But “half-back” for me will take us to one of my own known “home places,” the Up-Country South, where generations of my mother’s family (Smiths and Shirleys) are buried beneath headstones in neat Anderson County cemeteries (or anonymously, because Cherokees, in the North-Georgia-hills).
We are not heading for South Carolina, to a town of 3,500 called Micasa, because the place is a blue-state nirvana of progressivism. Rather, like Br’er Rabbit’s briar patch, Micasa is simply familiar and affordable, for those with young nests or empty ones: a living, breathing small town, where Senator Lindsey Graham maintains an office, but the streets off the square are home to Clemson University professors (architects and artists, for the most part).
In Micasa, the pecan trees bear fruit and the people keep chickens; a transplanted Syrian baker makes baklava; an art gallery displays the work of local painters; and an Afghan antique dealer sells carpets and architectural elements from the -stans.
Micasa’s an anomaly but, in many ways, the face of what is to come in what I term “livable America.” The town is “real” and diverse in ways the Florida “retirement community” we are leaving will never, could never be. Micasa was planned, laid out on a grid, two centuries ago, and its bones are good. But the human face it wears today would have been unimaginable to John C. Calhoun.
As I pack, I cull, set aside, and send things off to friends. Jean has been getting books in the mail (Hilary Mantel’s memoir, Giving Up The Ghost, Thomas Cahill’s Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why The Greeks Matter, Rilke’s Poems from the Book of Hours).
My first cousin Mary Beth (the only child of my mother’s beloved little brother, Webb, killed in a car accident before I was born), recently got never-seen letters from her father, whom neither of us knew. Nor have I met even Mary Beth, though she also lives in Florida.
Webb wrote elegant little letters to his aunt, and to a family friend who had sent him a high school graduation gift: they were tucked away (for a lifetime) between the pages of one of my mother’s books, waiting some seven decades to be sent to the one woman on the planet who would value them.
I’ve also, just, packed again my mother’s silver grape shears and a single 22-karat-and-diamond earring made, in the 1970s, by Greek goldsmith Leonidas Fanourakis.
The grape shears, which I’ve never used, but which my mother, who died in 1992, often did, are a sort of marker for my particular and slender slice of social standing.
I’ve just finished reading J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis and, though my mother’s people, who came out of Hartwell, Georgia and Townville, South Carolina, would never have been described or self-identified as “hillbillies,” their poverty, if genteel, was of a depth Vance could parse in a flash.
My grandfather, a Cherokee who passed, all his life, as German (the name his family took derived from Von Boleman, or Bohlmann), married the fair, blue-eyed daughter of a captain of the Confederacy, went to teachers’ college, and set himself up as a successful farmer and small merchant in Anderson County in the early 20th century. Because he’d bought the first Model T Ford in Townville, he was known as “Rocky,” for Rockefeller. But the Great Depression brought Papa, and all around him, to their knees. My mother, Valedictorian of her Townville High School class, would go on to college, but marry before she finished her degree; before she ever owned a new dress of her own.
A beautiful girl from straitened circumstances in red-clay Carolina, still she knew her Shakespeare backwards and forwards and, in the 1930s, saw fit to buy grape shears.
And it was my mother, made a millionaire after her older sister’s death, who bought me the Fanourakis earrings, in the early 80s, on Santorini, from gallerist Christoforos Asimis.
There were a pair of them when Dean and I arrived in Florida; now, there is but one. The other, I fear, was a sacrifice to Hermes, the god of transitions and boundaries, travelers and roads; the conveyor of souls.
May he take Leonidas’s beautiful little jewel, and grant us safe passage out of this place; and into another . . . where I shall unpack my grape shears yet again and, by the gods, use them.
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