- Cullman, Alabama


March 3, 2013

SOUTHERN STYLE: Books I’ve Loved

I get a lot of inspiration for articles on Facebook. Not the “gossip of the day” kind of stuff, but more the simple things that get a lot of comments so that I know it’s interesting to a wide variety of people. One that popped up recently was about books.

“That moment when you finish a book, look around you and realize that everyone is still just carrying on with their lives as if you didn’t just experience trauma at the hands of a paperback.” Got a lot of “likes” from the people who know exactly what that means.

I’m one of them. Books, for me, have always been like an extension of my arms, and lots of times, my heart.

Some of my earliest memories revolve around books. I read at an early age and I’m sure that I went through all the nursery rhymes first, but then I remember Honey Bunch and Norman books, the Bobbsey Twins series, and the Happy Hollister books, both about big, happy families, which was for me the ultimate utopia. Encyclopedia Brown from the book sales in elementary school, Misty of Chautauqua (the first in a long line of horse books and later movies…Secretariat still gets me every time), and The Princess and Curdie, Little Women, Beautiful Joe, and my all time favorite (both the book and the movie) The Wizard of Oz, which is in my humble opinion, probably the best book ever written — with the exception of the Bible, of course.

The Wizard of Oz has so many lessons, and it is one of those books that you finish in a bittersweet frame of mind — you don’t want to put away those characters that have become a part of your life. Books like that leave you seeing parallels of yourself, your family and friends in each of them.

The Wicked Witch was one of my childhood neighbors. Dorothy’s Auntie Em was exactly like my grandmother, always fretting and worrying about some of us. Uncle Henry was gentle and kind, like my granddaddy…. I even had a little dog that followed me all over town, although she looked more like a Welsh Corgi than Dorothy’s little Cairn Terrier.

As I grew older I recognized traits in my friends that exemplified the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man. Some were so smart that you immediately knew they would grow up to become educators, lawyers, judges and international spies. Some were the heroes who led us to victory on the football field under those Friday night lights, and others fought real wars in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Some were just so kind and sweet and good that my heart still swells with love and pride when I see them, because I know they are true friends that have stood the test of time.

Of course, the Wizard lives on in a lot of people — that little man with the grand plan, the one who kept on trying under all circumstances, even when the curtain was pulled back. Don’t we all have a little of the Wiz in us? A side we’d rather people didn’t see? Don’t we want to believe that we can accomplish the impossible for those that we love? Wouldn’t we all try to make the world a more perfect place if it were within our power? To grant all the wishes of those in need? To seem invincible in their eyes?

No, we can’t be all of those things to all people, but for some we can be the next best thing…the one who never gives up on our friends and family, or sometimes on strangers who might be angels that we are unaware of…

We can be strong for our friends when they need someone to lean on, we can be a resource for those in need of our experiences and knowledge, we can listen when they need to talk, and comfort them when they are in pain. We can stand up for them — or stand in front of them — when the need arises, and hope that we have the courage of a lion when the time comes.

And we can love with our whole hearts. Often that love endures even if we don’t see our dearest friends for years. That kind of love creates a bond that transcends time and space. The kind of love where the conversation picks up just where it left off — even if it’s been since the seventh grade.

And we all know the feeling of coming home, that place where people love us in spite of our flaws, in spite of all the things we forgot to do, or the phone calls we didn’t make. That place we long for even if we don’t realize what that little feeling of emptiness is. There really is no place like home — just ask anyone who has ever left the south — those people who couldn’t wait to get out of here. Then look around you at the ones who couldn’t wait to get back, the ones who finally realized that home is where you heart is, and that the tag has had it right for years: The Heart of Dixie. And to think — we've had it right here at our fingertips and sometimes didn't even realize it.

And then there is Dorothy. That wistful lonely little girl who loved so fiercely, who was brave enough to risk the wrath of the wicked witch, who was determined to overcome whatever obstacles stood in her way. And in the end, she learned a lesson about being brave, smart and loving with her whole heart. I don’t know a woman of any stage of life who doesn’t have just a little Dorothy in her. And she was right, you know — there is no place like home!


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