David L. Robbins
Novelist, Educator, Playwright, Essayist
Native Son #3
by David L. Robbins on May 19th, 2014

As a novelist, I try whenever possible to visit every locale I depict in my books. Because of the nature of the stories – mainly historical sagas from WWII – I’ve dragged myself to distant spots that exist in no brochures, plus a few fabled or merely familiar places. I’ve met remarkable people who in their own context are just plain folks. I’ve seen landscapes and landmarks that plucked from me tears not for their beauty but the blood spilled on them. I’ve listened to memories more unbelievable than fiction. Then I come home to Richmond.

After ten books of following where many characters have led me, here are some observations:
February is the wrong time to stand in Auschwitz. The gray rain comes in sideways and the saddest place on earth beats at you even harder.

In mid-summer, the sun sets near midnight on the Russian steppe. This is important to know because the massive tank battle fought there between the Germans and Soviets had less than 4 hours of darkness to pause. This helps explain the ferocity.

Havana’s waterfront boulevard, the Malecon, is doused all day with plumes of spray like a Vegas fountain when the big rollers off the Florida Straits hit the seawall. Young men and women sit in dry spots to play bongos and guitars. The girls sway their hips and lift their skirts. This is not lascivious. It’s inspired.

You do not know how small the world is until you sail it. Recently, I voyaged 5,000 miles from Malta to Dubai by cargo ship. I watched six blue seas and oceans slip by. Only once did I think to wish for dolphins. In that instant, one dolphin flashed to the surface then disappeared. None returned for the rest of the trip. I believe now in wishing.

In Siberia, ants build anthills six feet high. The list of things which cannot be done is smaller than we know.

If you want to test what you’re made of, stand at mid-tide on Omaha Beach in water up to your calves. Imagine two things: the calamitous morning of June 6th, 1944, and walking forward.
On the mucky plain below Seelow Heights in eastern Germany, where 70,000 Russian soldiers died across two days of their assault on Berlin, a park ranger can dig in any random spot to find helmets, guns, shrapnel, and bones.

In Kenya you will be greeted with “Jambo” and called “Brothah.” You will never hear English pronounced so sweetly anywhere else.

And the more remote your travels, the better you will love Richmond.

Yes, I know other towns welcome home their itinerants. Doors swing wide, arms spread in greeting, dogs and kids or just stacks of mail mark the weary passenger’s return all around the world. But there’s something different about Richmond. It seems to be just the right size, so everything you bring home can be measured against it. Richmond is just green enough, battered, simple and proud enough to say ‘Hey, welcome back’ and mean it. The voice is not New York’s shout, LA’s breathy hush, or Miami’s spicy accent. Richmond doesn’t bluster like Chicago, bat its eyes like San Diego or act shy like Denver. It doesn’t gush ‘Thank God you didn’t leave me’ like Minneapolis, dip its hat like Dallas, or ignore you coolly like Boston.

After you understand Richmond deeply enough, you can cry over the blood shed here, also. The native drawl is sugary and pleasing. Enough astonishing people have lived here before and do so now to earn our stripes in American history, science, business, and culture. Our river’s rapids are rare for any city. We are the former Confederate capitol where the nation’s first black governor sat in office, so we too have stretched the list of the possible.

Richmond’s virtues require patience and a keen eye. Like the locale in a good book, once appreciated they’re not easily forgotten.

Next time you travel far away, see if I’m not right. When you finally return to RIC, tell me if the city doesn’t ask ever so quietly, ‘How was your trip, dear?’

No matter how hard a journey you just finished, you’ll want to answer, “It was fine.” Because now, with me and the rest of us, you’re home.

Posted in Boomer Mag, Boomer Articles    Tagged with boomer magazine, native son, richmond, travel, rva


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