By Sarah Shields
In the seat of my bike, racing down a backroad, skin blistering in the sunshine, my aunt hollered at me from her porch swing,
“You got a rat’s nest in the back of that head of yours, Sarah.”
But brushing my hair was the least of my worries. I was in constant motion—had too much to do, to see, to explore.
The heat was waiting on me.
The days were so hot it felt as if the heat enveloped your whole body as soon as you stepped outside, and when you breathed deep, the humid air turned to liquid in your lungs.
Cars rambled slowly down the distant highway. The table saw hummed and wood whined as my Papaw created a masterpiece with his hands, bending it to his will. A roar echoed from the garden down the road. I knew if I waited long enough, I would see my father proudly posted atop his red 1986 Massey Ferguson tractor.
Smells mixed together in the air. Sawdust, old leather, honeysuckle, freshly turned dirt.
If you’re from the Deep South, you understand the way heat smells.
After moving to what my family termed the “big city,” a man once told me,
“You smell different, not like soap or perfume, but something else.”
Maybe a mixture of the sawdust, honeysuckle, worn leather and heat has seeped into my pores, clinging to me, branding me, reminding me and anyone else who comes close enough of my Mississippi roots.
I can remember walking down that backroad named after my family, thinking how idyllic it was, but not knowing that word at the time. The tree limbs hung loosely over the road, almost as if they were longing to touch the gravel as much as I was. It looked like a scene so many Southern novels describe.
Old, shaded, beautiful. Touched by time, yet untouched by the world.
If you caught it at the right moment, the sun would make its way through the leaves onto the blue gravel pavement, creating something almost magical. Like you had been transported back in time to a place that wasn’t as affected by life and circumstance. That’s the world I grew up in. Riding horses and bikes along the old pavement, never fully understanding how special and tragic it was.
Now, as an adult, the veil that covered my eyes as a child has faded.
I understand that Mississippi isn’t fondly regarded by the rest of the world. It’s the home of racism, homophobia, sexism and obesity. I can attest to all of these things being a part of Mississippi. They are the reasons I moved to a larger, more tolerant Southern city.
But what people don’t understand are the summer days on a Southern backroad. The ones with sawdust, honeysuckle, heat and just a hint of magic.