We moved away from the Bay Area ten years ago, but I find myself returning often because my mother and her husband as well as my son and his family still live here.  I’m visiting now for a few days, to help my mother celebrate her most recent birthday, the number of which is between she and her doctor.  Mother has lied about her age so long, that at one point I it seemed I had actually become older than she was, which I believe is currently reflected in the Guiness Book of World Records.  Smile.

For our first day together we opted for shopping, which is my mother’s favorite pastime.  Actually it would be more of a vocation, because of the hours she dedicates to her craft. The shopping gene skipped a generation with me. If I could hire a person of my size with similar tastes to pick out clothes, shoes, and underwear, I’d be a happy camper.  After fighting the traffic to get to the mall, we circled the parking lot with forty other cars vying for an available space like a group of vultures hovering over a dead skunk on the highway.  In the mall I waited in endless cashier lines, had a lady grab a blouse from my hands insisting she’d seen it first, and waited for lunch for a half an hour with a buzzer in my lap to alert us a table was at last available.  Really?  I mean, really?

I spent my high school years and the first years of my first marriage in the L.A. area.  Los Angeles is a never-ending sea of cities, the only delineation differing one from the other is a city limit sign indicating that you have moved on from one to the next.  After a while, you simply become inured to the constant mass of humanity surrounding you and, in fact, almost become completely oblivious of it. Traffic, crime, and the endless lines associated with living in the immediate proximity of huge populations becomes the accepted norm.

At my third visit to the altar, I married a man from the south.  For him, the large sprawling cities and everything they represented he found confining, preferring the freedom of wide open spaces.  Up until that point, I had lived in the suburbs in many areas, but certainly no place I would label “rural”.

Yearning for the south, he accepted a job, that in the end, turned into a series of jobs with a well-known construction company.  If I wished to continue the relationship, it seemed I would have to leave the city behind me and venture into the unknowns of country living, and more specifically southern country living.  Hmmm.  Well, it was something I hadn’t tried yet, and what’s life if you don’t shed the boxers and try the briefs now and then.  Ya know?

Arkansas was my first southern experience with the true south other than information I’d gleaned from books.  As we drove through the state for the first time we encountered small dusty towns whose store windows had been long ago been boarded up as the world passed them by and people migrated towards the growing cities.  Groups of men with well-weathered skin showing a few years of wear on them, could be found chatting amiably outside shops advertising “bait for sale”.  People when passing on the street acknowledged your presence with a nod of their heads or a friendly “hey” or “good morning”, even if  your face was unfamiliar to them.

Night, without benefit of the lights of the city to dim its presence, was my favorite time of the day.  The humidity lingered, keeping a light glow of sweat hovering above your upper lip, but the sweltering heat of the day  diminished to a more tolerable level as the sun sank below the hills. Bullfrogs croaked lonely songs from the direction of the riverbanks, fireflies danced in the reeds, and the stars shone brightly against the black backdrop of the evening sky.  Quite wonderful.

The brownish red rivers reminded me of chocolate waterways. Bony arms of submerged bushes and trees protruded here and there as though waiting to snag a marshmallow, and an occasional lazy alligator might be spotted along the banks keeping one eye open in anticipation of snaring an unsuspecting meal.  Arkansas was lush and green, and literally appeared to be strangling itself with vegetation.  The people were spread out throughout the countryside like chocolate chips on a cookie, rather than crowded one on top of another like coconut on a macaroon.

A philosophy that I found interesting from the locals was that they found city dwellers views with regard to cohabiting so closely together strange.  I’d never thought about that before.  For those I spoke to who expressed an opinion on the subject, the general consensus was that the more people you have around you, the more people are likely to be “up in your bidness”.  Most there preferred to mind their own, although there were always those few not  hesitant to share a tidbit or two about the comings and goings of their neighbors.  To simplify, less was more, I would suppose.

I loved the food, particularly as you moved south on the map into Louisiana.  Delicious savory gumbos,  spicy sausages, and soups that had the propensity to heat you both from the outside and the inside.  Corn was represented at most barbecues I attended, nearly always grilled in foil, or in crisp relishes, and occasionally in cheesy corn casseroles, which I I’d never tried before and really liked.

Maybe we find comfort in numbers, although it would make sense that the more humans are clumped in one spot, the percentage of bad apples in the barrel would increase accordingly.

For me, I don’t miss riding the bumper in front of me for miles to get from Point A to Point B.  I guess I’ve moved on from the city.  Doesn’t mean I don’t still miss the accessibility to all the wonders cities have to offer, the theater, sporting events, great dining experiences (buzzer optional), or enjoy it while I’m here, but I’ve got to admit it’s good to leave it behind me and head for the less traveled roads of home.

Corn Casserole

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 15 oz. can creamed corn
1 15 oz. can whole kernel corn
2 eggs, beaten
2 Tbsp. whole milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1 small pkg. of Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 cup sour cream
1 1/4 cups shredded cheddar cheese

In medium skillet saute onion in butter until translucent.

In large mixing bowl combine onions, corn, eggs, milk, salt, muffin mix, and sour cream. Mix well.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 13 x 9″ casserole dish with cooking spray. Spread corn mixture in dish. Bake uncovered for 45 mins. until golden brown.

Remove from oven. Cover with grated cheese. Return to oven for 10 mins. longer. Let cool 15 mins. before serving.