With a name like Writing Home Society, the word “home” takes on different meanings for our team.
We admit it. We are nomads. Home is all over.
When someone asks me where I am from, I stutter. “Well, it’s sort of complicated. I went to high school in Orlando, lived in Mississippi, claim Memphis even though I never lived there for more than three months at a time. Oh, and I currently live in Austin.”
Loaded question. My answer explodes in your face and makes you wish you never asked. Home is hard for me to define, but the first place I ever experienced it was in Oxford, Mississippi.
I found home there in friends, culture, school and grace.
I moved a ton as a kid. I went to a different elementary school each year, and we finally settled in Orlando. My parents divorced, so Orlando we stayed. The divorce and a bad relationship in high school soured my love for the sunshine state and I could not wait to get the heck out.
I applied to only out of state colleges and in a plot twist I can not explain, I ended up at The University of Mississippi. After a rough first year of figuring life out and experiencing college and living on my own for the first time, I found home.
Many people from Oxford will tell you it is one special place, but for me it was more than just a fun college town where I partied on the weekends. Oxford can have a welcoming feel - it’s small, warm and friendly - but has a deep and dark history of racism and oppression, making it hard for some to swallow, I’m sure.
There in that small southern town, I found myself through my studies, through my friendships and through pushing myself into uncomfortable places constantly. In the mess, I found home.
I asked my advisor once (not naming names) which minor I should pursue so that I could “get a job.” I was an English major and getting a little antsy about post grad life. She cheerily recommended Southern Studies. Comical she thought that would guarantee me a job after college, but she changed my life.
I fell in love. Southern Studies is the study of the American South. It includes history, identity, food, racial reconciliation, sociology, literature, music, and more. It was challenging, hard to hear at times, but made me a thinker. In Barnard Hall we defined home for southerners and I proclaimed myself a Mississippian. I accepted it with all of its baggage and glory. I accepted the dark past, my own privilege, the bourbon and my identity as a Southern woman.
Beyond my love affair with the South, I found home in it’s people. I became a Young Life leader at Lafayette High School and for the first time in my life interacted with truly authentic people. We all had shit and we all laid it on the table and shoveled through it together.
“Here’s mine, love me.”
“I see yours and I am here for it.”
I shared my life story for the first time and the guy in charge, Allen Hampton asked me who my best friend was. I immediately burst into tears, I didn’t actually have one. I lied and said my boyfriend, who I later married, so I guess it all works out. I was still a lost college student.
The people in that room from that night took me and loved the hell out of me despite my mess, my insecurities and my clear lack of composure. They showed me home and they barely knew it.
5 years later and I married that guy I said was my best friend, even though he was more like my make out buddy, and we made a home together. We moved into an apartment together in the my self-proclaimed hometown and let down our walls and set out to create a home anywhere we landed.
I found a real home at 19 years old in Oxford, Mississippi and now I keep redefining what that means. But, no matter where we land, Oxford will always be where I write home to.
Written by Mallory Lehenbauer.
Mallory is a founder and the Editrix in Chief of Writing Home Society. Her personal work and blog can be found at beingmallorykatherine.com