“Bless Me, Father, for I Am Home,” column for Sept. 29, 2015

Watching the news of Pope Francis’ visit to New York, I smiled, recalling my own recent visit to Winston-Salem, N.C.

The Pope might’ve had a bigger turnout. But I could almost swear that I got more hugs. Don’t tell him I said that. I’d hate for him to feel slighted.

It’s always a treat to get to speak in my home state. I live in Las Vegas of all places. But I was born in North Carolina, grew up in South Carolina, and to me, both states are one _ Carolina, a place I call home.

My column has appeared for years in the Winston-Salem Journal. I have no blood kin that I know of in the area (with my kin, it’s hard to say.) But the events at which I spoke recently and the warmth with which I was welcomed felt like a family reunion. Without the fist fights, of course.

I’d have loved to stay longer, but did not want to wear out my welcome. And my blood kin in South Carolina were expecting me to visit. So I got in an ugly red rental car to head south.

I ask you. What is there about me that makes rental car agents snicker to themselves deciding which Dukes of Hazzard-like vehicle to foist upon me? If you ever spot such a vehicle, please wave. I’ll probably be driving it.

To avoid traffic and big-rigs on I-85, I asked Siri, my strange new phone friend, to direct me instead on back roads.

Boy, did she. Have you heard the term “pig trail”? More than a colorful expression, it’s a road, more or less, often frequented by slow moving vehicles and occasionally, yes, pigs. I am not making this up.

First, Siri said to drive part way on I-40, which wouldn’t have been bad, if not for a major accident that slowed traffic to a crawl for miles. I don’t know how many miles. I lost track. When I got to the accident and saw a big-rig had crashed down an embankment, I quit being annoyed by the delay, felt lucky to be alive and said a prayer for the trucker and anyone else who might’ve been harmed.

Funny, isn’t it, how a little perspective can suddenly turn grumbling into gratitude?

Pretty soon, Siri told me to get off I-40 and start winding from the foothills into the mountains on old, two-lane, beautiful blue highways like the ones I knew as a child. My dad would drive 35 mph, one hand on the wheel, the other dangling a cigarette out the window. And I would sit beside him feeling happy.

I don’t smoke. But I rolled down the window of my ugly rental car, slowed to 35 and dangled out my arm.
It felt good. When I spotted a pig trotting down the road, I leaned out and yelled, “Git!”

Much to my surprise, it did.

I drove past rusty trailers where children played in the dirt, just as I used to do, and farmhouses where old people (about my age) sat on the porch drinking coffee or iced tea or beer.

Young and old, they all stopped to watch me go by _ a strange woman in an ugly Dukes of Hazzard-like car with Florida license plates, of all things. And every one of them, God bless them, lifted a hand to greet me, as if to say, “Welcome home!”

I ask you. How on Earth did they know I was one of them?

Maybe they didn’t. But I did.

Hours later, I pulled into my sister’s driveway, happy as ever to be “home” once again.

Home is not a house or the town where you live or the country where you were born or the state where you grew up. It’s a place in your heart. You carry it with you wherever you go. You sense it in the eyes and hugs and lifted hands of people, young and old, who care about the same things you care about.

You find it, if you’re lucky, at the end of every journey, every step, every road you take.

I wonder. Do you think Pope Francis felt at home in New York?

I hope so.

But I still think I got more hugs.


  1. pat Smith. says

    Hi Sharon,it’s Pat from Bristol, Va.(Becky’ s sister). I just finished reading your column in the Herald Courier, ‘Bless me father for I am home’. You surely still have ” it” ! This is the type of column that touched my heart years ago when I started reading them. Stay at it!

  2. This is the second time you’ve come to Winston-Salem since I discovered your column and I haven’t been able to attend either time! I’m glad my neighbors have made you feel so loved. I think we all feel that we “know” you because you speak so beautifully from your heart.

  3. Randi Shelton says

    Love this! I’ve been living back in the Pittsburgh area after 18 years in a small tow ab 25 miles away. I couldn’t wait to move back! I’m finally home! It feels so good to be back!

  4. I missed you this time too! Damn, I didn’t even get to offer that cup of coffe that I promised last time.
    It makes me happy that Winston-Salem hugged you in my absence.
    I too will save up my hugs until the next time you come.
    Meanwhile there is Facebook!

  5. I know exactly what you mean……
    I grew up in Pacific Grove,CA.It is still my home, (One block from the Asilomar, on Pico Ave.) Will always be my home,, and never far away from my thoughts…or in my heart. Living in San Luis Obispo County, CA, about two hours from PG…….can visit now & then. Husband & Spend lots time In Morro Bay, so I can recapture the ocean breeze, the peacefulnes. He’s a country boy,born raised on a cattle ranch here……and as many women, we lived where the hubby lived. Thankfully,he enjoys the ocean too, but not to live on, but we do visit often. 🙂

  6. Home is always a place we feel at home . If anybody can give that God bless them . I experienced it at a hotel and a friend’s house recently . It is always inspiring to read such stories when you explain it, about love from strangers and also from your own ;for strangers and for your family .Thank you .

  7. I always miss you when you come here…or the tickets are all sold out. I practically swore at my friend who snagged tickets and didn’t get an extra for me. Can you make an announcement the next time you come this way? Saving up some hugs for the occasion!

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