“If you don’t know where you’re from, you’ll have a hard time saying where you’re going.” Wendell Berry, among others, has voiced this idea that we need to understand our roots to know our place in the world. A poem by George Ella Lyon is called “Where I’m From.” I first heard it read by Appalachian poet Rita Quillen. Six months later, we used it as a writing assignment in a class taught by my friend Elizabeth Hunter at the Campbell Folk School in North Carolina. The poem lends itself to imitation and makes a wonderful exercise of exploration in belonging.
I’d like to suggest that you give it a try. The prompts have a way of drawing out memories of the smells of attics and bottom-drawer keepsakes; the faces of long-departed kin, the sound of their voices you still hold some deep place in memory. You’ll be surprised that, when you’re done, you will have said things about the sources of your unique you-ness that you’d never considered before. What’s more, you will have created something of yourself to share–with your children, spouse, siblings–that will be very unique, very personal and a very special gift.
I’ll give you the template here. You can search on “where Iâ€™m from” and find many others who have taken the time to do this valuable exercise. More often than not, one person having completed it, will encourage all their brothers and sisters to complete the poem template for their parents and each other.
Glad you stopped by. Since posting this in 2005, I’ve written two books I’d like you to know about: Slow Road Home ~ a blue ridge book of days; and What We Hold In Our Hands: a Slow Road Reader. Both are described at slowroadhome.com and can be ordered here.
The WHERE I’M FROM Template
I am from _______ (specific ordinary item), from _______ (product name) and _______.
I am from the _______ (home description… adjective, adjective, sensory detail).
I am from the _______ (plant, flower, natural item), the _______ (plant, flower, natural detail)
I am from _______ (family tradition) and _______ (family trait), from _______ (name of family member) and _______ (another family name) and _______ (family name).
I am from the _______ (description of family tendency) and _______ (another one).
From _______ (something you were told as a child) and _______ (another).
I am from (representation of religion, or lack of it). Further description.
I’m from _______ (place of birth and family ancestry), _______ (two food items representing your family).
From the _______ (specific family story about a specific person and detail), the _______ (another detail, and the _______ (another detail about another family member).
I am from _______ (location of family pictures, mementos, archives and several more lines indicating their worth).
I am from the peaceful banks of a creek with no name; from JFG, toast and blackberry jam and home-made granola.
I am from “a house with double porches,” a room filled with good ghosts and creek laughter in the mornings before first light.
I am from Liriodendron and Lindera, butterfly bush and mountain boomers
I am from Dillons and Harrisons, Betty Jean and Granny Bea– frugal and long-lived, stubborn and tender, quick to laugh. Or cry.
I am from a world whose geography my children know better than I, from a quiet valley where I am the proprietor and world authority of its small wonders.
From barn loft secret passwords and children who can fly if they only try.
I am from oven-baked Saran Wrap and colds caught from jackets worn indoors.
I am from pire in the blood Baptists, from the cathedral made without hands, the church in the wildwoods, the covenant of grace.
I’m from the Heart of Dixie, son of Scarlett O’hara. From War Eagle, Wiffle, UAB and PT, from Walnut Knob’s blue ridge and the soft shadows of Goose Creek.
From a “fast hideous” dresser and a home body from Woodlawn, from a grandfather I never knew that I can blame for my love of nature and my stubbornness, they tell me.
I am from fragments, the faint smell of wood smoke, and familiar walks among trees I know by name, from HeresHome and good stock. A man can hardly ask to be from more.