Lynn Haven, Florida—I’m about as close to home as I can get. Right now, I’m about to walk onto a stage and tell stories to a small auditorium.
This is Mosley High School. I have friends who graduated from Mosley. I am wearing a sport coat. My hair is combed. I have a breath mint in my mouth.
The reason I am here tonight is because…
Well, I don’t truly know why. I guess I’m here because there’s no place like home.
This town is practically in my backyard. Long ago, we used to come to Panama City to do grocery shopping, or for summer jobs. And, when I was a young man, any buck who was worth his salt would take his date to Panama City for dinner and a movie.
I live in the adjacent county, Walton County. And—it’s important that you know this—I live in a trailer. Just like my mother does. Just like a lot of people in our part of the world do.
The reason I tell you that is because I owe it to you to tell you that we are simple people who sometimes eat pimento cheese sandwiches for supper. And we are happy in our simple worlds—where front lawns don’t get mowed regularly.
This is home. I still fish the nearby Choctawhatchee Bay of my youth. My fishing hole in Hogtown Bayou, where the ashes of two good dogs are scattered.
A man backstage is tapping his watch and telling me it’s almost time to go on stage. I am nervous because I know many people in the audience.
The bluegrass band is playing before I go on. I peek through the curtains and see friends, family, and even an old boss who once fired me.
Earlier tonight, I met an old friend. I knew her long ago. We weren’t close, but we were acquaintances.
She grew up on the north side of the Choctawhatchee Bay. She got a good job and went to big places. For sixteen years, it was California, New York, London, France, Chicago, you name it.
A few years ago, her mother died. She came home for the funeral. And that’s when her life changed.
She stayed in her mother’s house, with her mother’s Golden Retriever. And she grieved. Not only for her mother, but for home.
And when she stood in a cemetery the Friday of her mother’s service, listening to the whine of a preacher, looking at moss in the oaks, hearing “Amazing Grace,” it changed her.
“It’s funny,” she said. “All I ever wanted to do was get as far away from this place as I could.
“But I was stupid, ‘cause there’s no place like home.”
I know how she feels.
When I was younger, I wanted to get away from this place so bad I could taste it. I wanted to spread my wings and be somebody.
I had dumb dreams. I wanted to write for a newspaper, or a magazine, or study music, or write novels. I don’t know what I wanted. I suppose I wanted to leave a mark on this planet. But I got hit with so many closed doors, my nose still hurts. And I lost heart.
For a long time, I believed that simple people like me weren’t built for wonderful things. After all, I failed the fifth grade, my father was dead, I didn’t attend high school, I was shy, redheaded, with big teeth, and I had dog hair on my clothes.
But I was wrong about me.
My life changed one summer day. I saw a man riding a bike. He was going to the same place I was going—the post office.
I knew this man. We went to church together. He was my father’s age. For years, I’d seen him in the back rows, every Sunday. He was happy. Really happy.
And if I had room to write more about him, I would tell you how his friendship changed me. I’d tell you about how this man was like a father, sort of. A guy who helped me learn to love a hometown I wanted to get away from. The tall pines, the bay of my youth, and the trailers.
But I’m almost out of words.
Anyway, I know this all sounds painfully cliche, but I guess what I’m trying to say is: my life has been changed by people who have loved me. Good people. The people in this audience. Right here. In Lynn Haven. Tonight.
I forgot where I was going with this.
Oh yeah. There’s no place like home.