There’s a funny thing I’ve noticed happening more and more lately, that I thought I might ramble about for a moment right here. And it’s best explained with the assistance of a beautiful James Taylor song that illustrates it perfectly with these lyrics:

In my mind, I’m goin’ to Carolina
Can’t you see the sunshine
Can’t you just feel the moonshine
Ain’t it just like a friend of mine
It hit me from behind
Yes, I’m gone to Carolina in my mind

It seems like there are these parts of ourselves that come out of nowhere and remind us of where we’re from, no matter how long we’ve been away.

These are the snapshots that find me home:

With the windows down, we drive through a noisy, crowded section of a town called Mthatha on the way to East London. Women are carrying bulky things on their heads, babies are bundled onto backs with blankets. People are selling necklaces and salad servers, wooden giraffes and painted canvas on the sidewalk in front of a big gas station. A tractor digging up a section of sidewalk lifts its crane and a woman quickly skirts out of the way. An advertisement for safe abortions hangs on a telephone pole. Life seems so different, and like Samwise Gamgee, commenting to Frodo Baggins, I ponder for a moment whether this might perhaps be the furthest away from home I’ve ever been.

Suddenly traffic is moving and the wind is in my hair and between my fingers out the window, and we pass a chicken place called Zebros. As the spicy, crispy smells make their way in through Potato’s window, I am suddenly whisked to the carport of my grandmother’s house. My Dad is cooking on the grill, his amazing spicy chicken wings. I feel my lips tingling a little from the spice but I want to keep eating anyway.

And half a world away is suddenly taking me right back home.

We’re at home in Gordon’s Bay and the Bear has taken the opportunity to make some mischief. I hear the words “I swoney, Bear” come out of my mouth. {I’m not sure how that’s spelled but it rhymes with honey.} And suddenly I’m back in the kitchen with my Mama. She’s standing at the stove and I’m fetching something from the pantry that is chockablock full of canned goods, Jell-O mix, salsa jars, brown rice, Hershey’s cocoa powder, and enough stuff that I often wonder how long we could survive just on the stuff in my Mom’s pantry. I can hear her say “I swoney, Caroline” and I sound just like her.

We’re on the floor in our living room, South Africa’s south-easter blowing outside, I’m tickling the Bear. He tilts his head back and a drawn out and heavy laugh escapes from his throat. Suddenly I’m eight years old and my brother has just finished reading me a story. I wasn’t supposed to have dessert because I didn’t finish my vegetables but he sneaks me cookies and milk anyway. I remember him making me laugh, me throwing my head back, and another long, drawn out laugh escapes from a throat, this time it’s mine. But it’s twenty years later and with a sigh I hope the Bear is a good big brother, too, someday.

The hair straighteners my sis-in-love let me borrow are busy warming up and I glide them through a layer of hair as the Bear dances and points at himself in the mirror in front of me. The smell of my hair heating up brings me back to my sister’s bedroom, where she’s applying my makeup and fixing my hair. I must only be six or seven years old…we have a dance recital tonight and she’s helping me get ready. I sit patiently as her curling iron works its magic, I struggle to keep my eyes shut as she attempts to apply eyeshadow. The Bear has finished dancing in front of the mirror, and is now carefully pretending to squirt the heat resistance hair spray at my scalp. He gently touches my head with it, puts it down, picks up the hairbrush and attempts a few brush strokes. Like the hair brush moving back and forth, twenty years are gone, and back again.

The surprising thing is, I’ve now counted my days outside Carolina to have stretched long beyond the 365 mark. This may not be the furthest away from home I’ve ever been, but it is definitely the longest. And yet, more frequently it seems, my mind takes me back again. A smell, a sound, a sight, a taste, the sound of the wind rushing through our chimney that hearkens me back to power outages and hurricanes and my childhood.

It’s a beautiful thing, these five senses. I sometimes take the time to be thankful for them. Without you even asking them to, they carry home with you. They remember things you don’t know you remembered. And they bring them back at moments when you’re so glad to have them there.

And though it’s still a while before the soles of my shoes will touch the crisp, autumn Carolina soil, still I’m joyful that, every once in a while, I’m goin’ to Carolina, in my mind.