We come into this life with two things — a beating and a kiss. From our mother’s womb, we are slapped on the ass by a stranger — a cruel start to life — then handed to our mama for our first kiss, followed by breakfast at her breast.

And the world goes ’round

For most of my young life, growing up the shy, chubby child of a ninth-grade-graduate farm mechanic and a GED-accomplished bookkeeper, I yearned for the day when I could leave our small town, the farms around our house, the week-to-week paychecks, and the struggle that all small-town, uneducated southern folks knew as their daily bread. I escaped all that through a great imagination, the school library, and in summertime, the bookmobile that came around to the Baptist Church in our town every two weeks. It was full of pirate stories, tales of European aristocracy, fish that could talk, and a thousand other things that were far, far different from cutting grass, pulling potatoes from the neighbor’s garden, picking cucumbers for a nickel a bushel from someone else’s field, and the monotony that was country life.

And the world goes ’round

Then, I got my dream. I finished school, went to college and law school, and started a career. Back then, I never really pondered what my education cost my farm mechanic father and bookkeeper mother. I just went on, ’cause the world goes ’round.

Over the years, my dreams of leaving Nash County took me to jobs in Raleigh, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. I traveled to 48 of these great United States, to Canada, Mexico, Thailand, China, Nicaragua, and Australia. I walked the streets of Rome, Florence, Paris, and Milan. I swam the seas of Mexico and the south of France, dined in Beijing, Bangkok, and Boston. I wrote, I lectured to thousands of people, and I traveled. And occasionally, I came home to tell about it all.

And the world goes ’round

In 1991, my Grandma Ellis, a lady I adored, died while I was on a boat in the Outer Banks, a big yacht owned by my friend. In 2002, my daddy died while I was in San Francisco. That year, I had canceled my Thanksgiving trip home because he said I had a new job and would be home for Christmas anyway, so why spend the money. He died alone on December 2, 2002, and the last time I saw him, he was in his coffin, not at Thanksgiving and not at Christmas.

And the world goes ’round

Last year, I wrote a story in Shorts called “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.” In it, I talked about my family, my friends, and my fears. I also talked about the illness from cancer of our beloved stepfather, Frank Pittman. And I said that we knew he would survive and we’d all be stronger for it. But I was wrong. Frank died on Mother’s Day in May 2013, and life changed for us all – for my mother, for his daughters, for my sisters, and for me.

For 11 years, Frank gave us the peace of knowing that our Mother was loved and very well cared for. They traveled, they kissed, they danced and they acted like 20-year-olds, not 70- and 80-year-olds. But then he died and everything changed.

And the world goes ’round

After Frank’s passing, my very independent mother moved in with my sister. She’s always the one to step up in a crisis. I bought some Nash County land next to my sister’s house, and before I could think about what I was doing, I started building a new house for me and Mama. At first, it was just a romantic, emotional idea. But then things started moving fast. Last week, I visited the site of the new house with Mama, and it hit me — I’m leaving Raleigh, moving an hour from my job, and Lord help me, moving in with Mama.

My daddy always told me — I can hear him like it was yesterday — “Son, you can travel the world and back again, but the day will come when you’ll wanna’ feel Nash County soil between your toes.” I guess he was right, but he forgot to tell me just how scary coming home can be.

Last week, I saw the foundation of the new house rise out of the ground. I looked to my left and saw my niece’s house where the grandbabies live. A bit farther to the left, I saw my sister’s house and to the right my Aunt Millie’s house. I looked up the hill to the old white house where my cousin lives and realized that Mama and I were building a house where, for decades, her ancestors worked as sharecroppers, not owners. And I just laughed to myself and thought, “the world goes ’round.”

So, come January, nearly 50 years after the backyard swing, the books and bookmobiles, the dreams of leaving home, the dinners in China and Canada and Columbia, I’ll be living back in Nash County. I’ll be living with Mama on the very land our family worked for decades, but never owned. I’ll live in the shadow of her ancestors and mine, and in the whisper of the pines that line our country road, I’ll hear my Daddy say, “Son, I told you so.”

We come into this life with two things — a beating and a kiss. If I am blessed, I will be the lucky man who knows that the first face I ever saw was my mama’s and the last face she may ever see will be mine — in our living room, in our new house, in Nash County, on land she once worked but never dreamed she would own, and with her beloved family a rock’s throw away.

When my friends in Raleigh tell me I’m nuts, that I’m complicating my work and social life by moving an hour away to the country, that a 56-year-old man shouldn’t be living with his mother, I fret and I worry that they are right.

Then, I close my eyes and remember a chubby, shy little boy sitting in a backyard swing reading Moby Dick and Treasure Island, Catherine the Great and Black Beauty. I remember pulling potatoes and cucumbers for a nickel a bushel. I remember the people, the schools, the jobs, the marriages, and births and deaths that have defined my life and the lives of those I love.

I think of my Grandma Ellis, my Daddy Jack, and the others who sacrificed so I could have college and law school and jobs and trips. Those who freed me to abandon a backyard dreamer’s swing in Nash County to actually live those dreams. I think of those, some long gone and some still here, who wove the fabric of my life, however good or bad it may be. And those who gave me, bit by bit, this small piece of land in Nash County and a house with my mama, next to my sister and my niece and the grandbabies and my aunt.

I also think of my nephew and niece, and their babies, and the babies of those babies yet to come. And I wonder if they’ll keep this little house, this plot of ancestral land or, like me, rush to leave it, only to find they really can’t.

Then, I just smile to myself . . .

Because the world goes ’round.

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