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Back Home

Here in Southern California we hear a phrase that defines a certain generation: Back Home!

For those middle-aged or older, the words set off profound emotions. We are the product of the most momentous migration in American history......The Westward Tilt that followed World War II.

It was a restless, almost belligerent resettling of America by those of us abandoning old home towns. After seeing the world in wartime, we discovered an unexpected freedom to settle wherever we chose.


Millions of us came West. In the 1960 census, to the surprise of Eastern America and especially The New York Times, California displaced New York as the most populous American state.

The good life became a western icon, affirmed monthly by media like Sunset Magazine. It was casual, an easy style of life that had been unknown to most of us - glorious climate, free of back home traditions. To our families, we seemed renegades, but in time we established our own cultures and traditions.

Yet the phrase back home persisted. We new Californians did not always manage to bring everything important along to the West.

Non-profits in San Diego complained that too many had left their checkbooks with institutions back home.

We tended to choose burial in ancestral cemeteries back home. For as many years as the Los Angeles Airport reported the statistic, more bodies were shipped through LAX than any other airport on their final trip back home.


So the phrase can seem a little spooky, too. I am just back from my own "back home", which is now defined by where my siblings and their kin have settled.

That means from Washington, D.C., down through Charlottesville, Virginia, then North Carolina to a small town named Hogansville, West of Atlanta, where the eyes of my 91-year-old sister Isabel still sparkle when I return.

This time, we linked our visits by traveling down the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the world's most tranquil roadways.

I felt the surge of homecoming love, of place and people, and occasional revulsion too, at the facts of southern living that have not kept pace with our consciences.

To us Californians, the rate of change down south seems slow.

But, mounds of vine-ripened cantaloupes at roadside stops were worlds sweeter than ours in California.

The forests seemed deeper and more mysterious than ever..... placid little country homesites more prosperous.

And among the southern people, a rewarding explosion of trained, grcious young blacks in business and professional jobs.

They know finally that good jobs can open to them, at home.

It's a cause my preacher father fought for across Carolina. He is buried just two blocks from where I went to college at Wake Forest.

But when my turn comes, I'll stay out west.