It was, of all things, a call to jury duty that reminded me powerfully of the beauty of a sweet hometown and the joy that comes from staying put where the Lord put you in the first place.
First, you must know this: In my youth, I had a wanderlust that took me away from my hometown and into big cities where no one knew my name or cared who my daddy was or what my mama’s maiden name was. It was a time of adventure in places like Washington, D.C., Indianapolis and Nashville. But then the time came when I returned to the place I had left and when I came back the magnolias smelled more fragrant, the home cooking tasted better and even the telephone pole-climbing kudzu was a sight to my weary eyes. For there is no place like home.
Second, you must know this: I live in the town where I was born at the hospital where I cost $96 – Mama kept the receipt and her armband – and was delivered by Doc Walker. Walker would later set my broken leg when I was 4 after I got tangled up with my big collie dog who dragged me to kingdom come and back, lanced an infected chicken pox sore on my shoulder when I was 6, stitched up my head when I was 8, cut a mole from my arm when I was 18 and doctored me for strep throat when I was 22. Then, his rest well earned, he retired and lived well into his 90s.
Third, you must know this: In the hospital on the occasion of my birth, Mama shared a room with Miss Hazel who had given birth to a son, Chris, with whom I would start first grade then graduate together from high school. Also in that nursery, which surely must not have had more than five or six babies at the time, was my friend, Jerry, born the day before me. He also graduated from high school with me. To this day, our friendship is strong and he is always invited to join us for Thanksgiving dinner.
In this same town, I was educated from kindergarten to college. My first job, outside of babysitting, was working at a radio station where, straight off the bat, I was given my own weekend show. I had just turned 17. Later, the newspaper would hire me and I would work at a dress shop, juggling three jobs and college simultaneously. It was a glorious time.
Since I work from home and travel a good bit, it has been, apparently, easy to forget the power of hometown and ties that are so firmly knotted, they will never come undone. But then I got called to jury duty and, as it goes for most people, I grumbled. I dreaded it. Then, it became one of the most joyful experiences I’ve had in quite a while.
In the jury room, I saw old friends with whom I share history stretching far back into our teenage days and longer. We talked in terms of, “John. Married Mary. Her daddy is Tom. Worked for the railroad for years. Her mama worked at the drugstore forever.” And with each word, we would nod and say, “Yes!” because we knew all that and so much more.
A pool of prospective jurors was called in and asked questions, many to which I raised my hand in the affirmative. For I know the sheriff, I know deputies, I know judges, I know the district attorney and a couple of assistant D.A.s. I grew up with some of them. I’ve known the lieutenant governor since high school and I went to church with the governor and his family.
I didn’t get picked for jury duty. I know too many people. But my heart got pricked and I was warmly reminded: Nothing feels like home.