Carolina in my Mind


Some readers might appreciate the fact that I was born in South Carolina. For some other readers, I think especially of our Europeans and others across the internet globe, South Carolina means little. It is “Deep South” in the U.S., with its own distinctives. Perhaps one of its striking characteristics is that it has a strong sense of place. I know many Americans who do not have a sense of place – but they are not usually natives of South Carolina.

I have been absent from the state since 1988, but I always return with a sense of home. My hometown no longer houses my parents. They have moved away for medical reasons. I have cousins and extended family there, but my parents’ absence clearly affects my sense of place. I suppose (and I am in no hurry to find out) that when we lay them to rest beneath the sod of my home county (next to my fathers’ parents and near many others whom I know) that the sense of place will become fairly fixed. 

Several years back I was invited to celebrate the liturgy in the Church where my parents (who are now Orthodox) attended. It is located in a small community that I have known all my life. Many of my ancestors lived in or near that very place. The nearby city is growing and will eventually swallow up the Church and the community where it stands. But today, it seems an odd place (rural) for an Orthodox Church in the South.

But the overwhelming sense that I had as I stood at the altar of this small Church was that I was made of dirt from very nearby. I thought, as a priest, of so many things that had brought me to that altar, things for which I should give thanks and offer the sacrifice of praise. It was a powerful liturgy.

The Scriptures are utterly marked by the sense of place. The Patriarchs literally transformed the land that God gave them as they prayed and worked, lived and died. It seems that every significant event caused a name to be assigned to a place.

We rarely give names to places for anything other than commercial reasons. Our subdivisions compete to see who can sound more English County than the next. Thus we may live in “Foxcroft” (regardless of the absence of foxes), or “Manor View,” though there be no manor nor view. And on it goes. We have virtual names, all too often, given to suggest something that is not there. Thus names do not name a place – they obscure it.

As you leave South Carolina and move further West (you can tell that I’m from South Carolina because I think of living in Tennessee as being out West), there seem to be more Native American names that survive. Thus Tennessee, where I now live, is named for a river (the Tennessee) that, I believe, is an Indian name for two brothers (the Holston and the French Broad come together to form the Tennessee). It makes sense.  But there is plenty that does not make sense – such as a continent named for a mapmaker who had nothing to do with America.

But we can only live in particular places at particular times. With so much in our life that seeks to pull us away from the particular and to live in virtual space – a great part of our spiritual struggle is the effort we must make to be somewhere in sometime.

Tonight, as I write, I am in Aiken, South Carolina, home to my wife’s family and my son’s fiancee. It is also home to nearly 35 years of memories as I have traveled here, first to convince a young woman to marry me, and later to visit her family. It is a lovely place, one that I will continue to visit if only to remember who I am and where parts of my family are from.

Tomorrow I’ll go home to Tennessee, for although I was not born there, I live there. And it is there that I must learn to be somewhere, sometime and always in the presence of God. Where do you go to go home?

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.






14 responses to “Carolina in my Mind”

  1. orthstitcher Avatar

    Very good ponderings on home, place and culture. Though I hail from East Tennessee myself (and came to your parish for Liturgy the last time I visited my family in Maryville), there have been just too many extreme changes in my life in the decades before Orthodoxy for there
    to be any place on this planet that feels like home.

    That isn’t a sad statement, by the way, for our true Home isn’t to be found in this life – and God willing – (though I could never deserve it) – one day I, and all of us, will be found in that eternal Home 🙂

  2. Eusebios Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    Fr Bless!
    It seems to me that we ought to be content with the place God has put us in. For us, that place is Canton,OH. For m, this being the place where God brought us to His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, will likely hold a special sense of “home” for us.
    It seems more important however to be “present” wherever we may be hanging our hat. That said, I do appreciate what you have to say in this piece.
    His unworthy servant,

  3. Kellen Avatar

    Coming from a somewhat nomadic family, you’ve touched on some significant threads in my life. When I was young, “home” was a place to be proud of. For a long time I had a strong attachment to North Carolina as “home”, but after getting married and living in other places I’ve lost touch with that – partly by intention. Here in America every city, every state, every local culture has so many flaws and so little allegiance to Christ and all that is sure in this world, it’s hard to have a sense of pride in any place unless you want to adopt silly reasons. Still, it’s good to be thankful for the presence and providence of God, which is “home” for all the people of God.

    I do wish that we could go back to a more Biblical way of naming things. I’ve grown sick of seeing “Pointe” and “Creek” so much. Plus, it’d make for some really interesting child names.

  4. Fatherstephen Avatar

    I heartily agree that Heaven is our true home, and that in this world we have no “continuing city.” But, I would not know what it meant to say that Heaven is my true home, if I had not known an earthly home first. South Carolina has many flaws, as do I, as does my present home of Tennessee, but, I think it is a virtue to love the place where you are and the people who are there.

    I must admit, that despite my deep Carolina roots, I’m proud to be an “Oak Ridger,” as they say in our small town – despite its flaws.

    The flaws only remind me that I’ve not yet reached the home God has waiting for us – but, like the liturgy, every place is sometimes a sacrament of that place for which our heart yearns.

  5. Barnabas Powell Avatar

    Oh, father, as a fellow son of the South, I feel the same way about north Georgia. It is “home” for me. I know the sky there and the soil.

    One of our favorite sons, General Robert E. Lee, said that his connection to the soil of Virginia was part of knowing himself.

    While our beloved Southland is going the way of a homogionized America with strip malls and chain restaurants, I’m sure anyone from any part of the country, or even the world, can appreciate the connection to a particular place and “spirit” of a place that calls a heart home.

    I have instructed my wife that, when the time comes, I want my body laid in Southern soil. I’m not sure everybody can understand that, but I will “rest” best deep in the land that I love.

    Look away, dixieland!

  6. Meg Avatar

    Oh, dear, dear, dear, dare I say it? — I haven’t been “home” since attending the funeral of my husband’s close friend in 2000, but when I go “home,” in the sense of, This is where I was created — it’s New York City. A small town (!) in Queens called Middle Village, to be exact. Middle Village has been on my mind a lot, lately, and I “visit” it by calling up satellite maps of my favorite hangouts, like my grandmother’s house, or the place where I was tortur–I mean, where I went to school. 😉 (It was a Catholic school.)

    But, should I ever return home to New York for a visit, it will be with relief that I return to the current place I call home, New Hampshire. From which I venture forth periodically to my *spiritual* home, a monastery in Upstate NY (oh, OK, Jordanville). I trust that heaven will have the spiritual force of Jordanville, the granite and mountains of New Hampshire, and the downtown, know-your-neighbors of dear old Middle Village. Then I’ll know I’m HOME.

  7. Don Bradley Avatar
    Don Bradley

    “The Battle Cry of Freedom” is an excellent history of the Civil War (the war of Northern Aggression for Barnabas Powell:)). In summation the author said that in trodding the entire land, by both the northern and southern armies, the country got a sense of itself. In fighting each other and trodding the entire land we became one country in the process. Being a long haul trucker I have a nomadic existence, but one of the benefits is I understand the author’s meaning. If you’ve never seen NYC, DC, Gettysburg, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, Boston harbor, Vicksburg, or Chattanooga; travel. We have a great country. For all of it’s faults, where else would you rather live?

  8. Jonathan Avatar

    In pursuit of an undergraduate degree, I’ve been to four schools. Yet, no matter where I attend, it seems that the moment I set foot on the campus of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, I’m home. For all the coldness that is spoken of on college campuses (and I’ve had my share in my two times attending UTK), there’s a certain warmth when I’m there. It’s not the football, or the nightlife (I’m fairly straitlaced), or the friends (being straitlaced makes one a stranger to most at UT), or the wonderful parking (*ahem*). In fact, I don’t know what it is, exactly. But, as far as school goes, it’s home.

    As far as “home” home…East Tennessee will always be home. And, I wish to be found living in the country some day. I would like to walk outside at night and see the multitudes of stars and be reminded of my true home and of the good and majestic Creator who loves me. This, as opposed to dwelling in the city and looking up to see—not stars—but the pale amber glow of the industries and businesses that bid me sell my soul and my dreams, all in the name of the bottom line.

  9. orthstitcher Avatar

    While I have lived many, many places over the years, and been through more changes than many, probably, there IS something very special about going home to the mountains. East Tennessee is beautiful, and I think that there is something that satisfies the heart about the landscape.

    We all have different histories, and “home” means something very different to each of us, I am sure. I agree with Jonathan and hope to some day be able to live in the country – and for the same reasons. (AND not have to commute into the city every day for work…)

  10. Damaris Avatar

    My husband suggests that subdivisions are named after the things that were destroyed when they were built. In the Indianapolis area, for example, we have a Wildcat Run and an Emerson Woods — both mentioning bits of nature that were there but are no longer.

  11. Matt Avatar

    C’mon, baby don’t you wanna go
    C’mon, baby don’t you wanna go
    Back to that same ol’ place . . .
    Sweet home, Chicago!

    Father, outstanding post. Really resonates. I know very well that sense of connection to the earth – the place where you’re from – of which you speak. I currently live in Frisco, TX. But I was born in Chicago Heights, IL. Grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago. Went to school downstate Illinois, where many of my family roots are. I get giddy just at the thought of setting foot in the Land of Lincoln. I get back once or maybe twice a year. Not enough.

  12. Fatherstephen Avatar

    There was a famous elder on the Isle of Patmos who assigned to those who came for penance, the “epitimia” of planting a tree along a certain area of the island. He succeeded in reforesting an entire section of the island in his lifetime. He gave them heaven and paradise (forgiveness of sins) and they made it manifest in the world around them.

  13. Mary Avatar

    I grew up in Rochester, MN in the mid 1970s -early 80s. We moved to Dallas, TX in 1983, and then to Eastern Tennessee in 1987. Even after moving to Tennessee, I continued to miss Minnesota (and consider myself from Minnesota) for ten years: Until I was away for college in Aiken, SC in 1996. When I came back home for Thanksgiving that year, that’s exactly what the place felt like–home.
    A few years ago, I went to the UK for the academic year. I’ve never been so homesick. Yet the thought of home (I carried a mental image of it with me) and the county in which I live kept me going. In some way, the thought of that place is a geographical (spiritual?) pivot for me.
    Minnesota is still deep in my soul, though. Sometimes I dream of my childhood home.

    (BTW: the first time I saw “Fargo” I didn’t think it was funny: the sheriff’s reactions–and those of the other sane characters in the film–seemed perfectly fine to this Child-of-Minnesota-yet-Southerner-by-adoption!)

  14. Mark Avatar

    This evokes so many memories… growing up in Charleston, school in Spartanburg, summertime work in Seneca, Greenwood, and Aiken, parish ministry in Mauldin and Cheraw, occasional getaways to Pawleys Island or the Isle of Palms…

    Sadly, my parents are not longer living in SC, so trips back have become all too rare.

    We’ve had a providential development in our mission’s life: a small influx of Russians who are living and working in Baton Rouge. Some speak almost no English (and my Russian is limited to “Khristos Voskrese!”) – yet they appear to be laying claim to our little gathering place as a “home away from home.” They light candles and venerate the icons with an intensity that clearly conveys a rootedness in the tradition of which I’ve only scratched the surface.

    I miss the Lowcountry marshes and the oyster roasts, but by God’s grace, this is becoming home.

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