Thomas Wolfe’s 1929 novel Look Homeward, Angel traces the journey of young Eugene Grant as he grows up in a mountain town in North Carolina. I don’t love this novel for its literary value (which marks likely the only time I agree with Harold Bloom about anything). It does have a special place in my heart though, and I find myself thinking about it often these days. You see, I’m heading home for the holiday break. Now, while I know this isn’t particularly unusual I am feeling particularly sentimental about my journey. As many of you may know, I grew up in North Carolina. Or rather, I grew up between North Carolina and Ontario. I’m originally from Ottawa but when I was a decade or so old my parents made a radical lifestyle change. My father gave up his government job, took over the family business in rural Ontario, and, since the business is a seasonal one, decided that there was no longer a need to shovel snow in the winters. We moved from Ottawa to an antebellum plantation house in rural North Carolina. I’ll let you imagine all the culture shock we encountered (and the reciprocal culture shock our neighbours encountered when meeting us!)
I’ll be frank: it was a hard move for me. I didn’t make friends easily, I didn’t feel I ever fit in, I didn’t understand the social and cultural mores. I counted the days until we would return to Canada for the summers. Sure, things were easier when I arrived at university in Chapel Hill. There were simply more people, more chances to be myself without feeling I was under a microscope. But, when it came time to figure out what to do with my life, while all my friends were moving to San Francisco or New York or Chicago I came back to Canada. I’m not sure why, it just seemed like the right decision for me. Nostalgia? Rose coloured glasses? Yes and yes, but there was also something more. A sense that I hadn’t really given my Canadian self a chance to know what that meant.
I haven’t had much chance to go back home to North Carolina. For one thing, my parents still run the family business. It is a little lodge that my paternal grandparents opened in 1928 in Miners’ Bay, Ontario. Logistically it is far easier and far more affordable to go visit them there. But there’s something else behind my infrequent trips south of what a good friend once dubbed the muffin-biscuit line. Despite or in spite of all my conflicted and complex feelings about North Carolina I feel fond….and I worry that things will be different (or that they wont be different). No matter how much I move to find myself, no matter how much I move for the degrees, or for the job, for me looking homeward is a transnational journey bound up in all kinds of emotion. And you know what? I’m looking forward to going home. I’m looking forward to showing my partner where I grew up, and I can’t wait to see old friends, eat some hoop cheese at the Warrenton Hardware Cafe, and maybe hear some music at Cherry Hill where the curtains are older than the angel statue in the cemetery in Hendersonville that is said to have inspired Wolfe.
So in the name of nostalgia, loved ones, rest, and celebration here’s my mom’s recipe for Shoo Fly Pie. Mom is from Pennsylvania Dutch country, so be forewarned that this isn’t a southern recipe per se. Take care dear Readers, see you in the New Year.
Shoo Fly Pie
3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter or vegan shortening (I use Earth Balance)
1 cup molasses
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Oil and flour a 9 x 13 inch baking pan (mom says two pie plates work also)
Mix together the flour, sugar, and butter OR vegan shortening so that they crumb. I use my hands, mom says I shouldn’t because it warms the butter. The consistency should be crumby and crumbly. Remove 1 cup worth and set aside for topping.
In another bowl combine the molasses, boiling water, and baking soda. Be prepared for the fizzing you might remember from volcano experiments in elementary school.
Combine the 2 cups of dry mixture with the wet mixture. Mix thoroughly. Pour into baking pan and crumble leftover dry mixture on top. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Eat warm with soy ice cream (or regular–whatever works for you).