Learning How to Lose

Three hillbillies and a playmate in the backyard on Yacama Street
One day on Yacama Street in mid 50’s Detroit, my older sister and I sat on the back porch playing. Mom worked in the kitchen, watched over us like a long-legged hen.
Up the steps came two older girls. “I’m Italian,” one announced. “I’m Polish,” said the other.
I looked to my older sister Linda. “Sisser and I are Hillbilly,” I said.
“Hillbilly isn’t a nationality,” a girl said.
“Is too!” I replied with Scotch-Irish pluck and sincerity. Later, in private, I asked Mom what a nationality was.
With a gleam in her eyes, my mother related the incident to every transplanted relative from Kentucky who afterward sat with us for dinner. She made me proud to be a hillbilly, built my sense of security with every telling.
Yet, I pined for my home in the McCoy Bottom. There, my maternal uncles waited for my father’s maroon Chrysler to drive down the runoff and say, “We’ve come back home!”
Alas, Uncle Tab and Aunt Alma Leigh gave up waiting and went to remodeling the homeplace to suit my aunt’s haute couture. They removed the wrap-around porch and banister where my earliest memory of the mountains remains embedded. When attached to emotions of comfort and safety, some images are indestructible.
My uncles claim I beat them in foot races around the homeplace one summer. I did love to run. A snowball bush marked the start and finish line. Lordy! My cousins and I loved pulling apart the plump, white flowers and throwing them up so they fell like snow.
As an adult, I’ve returned to Kentucky almost every summer to glean my uncles’ stories, sustain vivid relationships, landscapes and colors within my mind’s eye. Sadly, the Sears house Grandpa Floyd McCoy built in 1925 has stood vacant for two years now. I worry about it, abandoned in the midst of a remodel gone awry. I would rescue the house if the means were mine.
I’ve come to understand my Italian and Polish neighbors were also immigrants who yearned for their homeland—many lost their birthplace to warmongers. I admire those who escaped tyranny and invasion in Europe and pledged their allegiance to the United States of America. They’ve found their place in this “one nation under God.”
I mourn their loss with them, follow their example and at last let the home of my nativity go. I will never sleep within its walls again nor set at table and commune with kinfolk. It must be enough for my homeplace to remain a living structure within memory—great strength within my mind, heart, and spirit.
Dear Reader, this morning I awoke within my house built with love and prayer in 1989. Rooted with books scattered around me on my bed, I remembered our rented house on Yacama Street, destroyed by vandalism. I knew this house is where I belong, considered how to best share the home I have.
A gray-headed woman, at last I learn how and when to lose without struggle.