Hilary DeMillo: Super Bowl LI – Rooting for Home



Super Bowl Brings Memories of Home

Visit Hilary DeMillo's Bio PageI’m not into NFL. Georgia football is my real passion, as if that’s a surprise. After that, we’re all about Braves baseball.

But yeah, the Hawks and the Falcons get our support in the playoffs. (The Hilliards will be ashamed of this declaration, but there it is.)

I read a great Rolling Stone piece by a favorite tweeter, Amanda Mull, yesterday. I loved what she connected about Atlanta sports: That we’re spending so much time on fall weekends tailgating and loving on our SEC teams that pro sports have come second below the Mason Dixon.

And yet, I’m spellbound by the Super Bowl and totally immersed in everything Matt Ryan is eating and Julio Jones is wearing.

I’ve loved walking through a bar, or sitting in a waiting room, only to catch a sweeping pan of the Atlanta skyline over the last two weeks. If you’ve caught me teary-eyed, this is why.

No, I’m not an Atlanta native. I was raised about two hours south, part of the “other Georgia.” My native landscape is military installations, peach orchards and pecan groves.

But so much of our lives is wrapped up in those skyscrapers, in the giant Coke billboards and the shadow of the Olympic torch.

I can clearly recall my brother toddling across a picnic blanket at Stone Mountain, learning to walk. I saw my first concert in the Omni and my second at the Georgia Dome. All of my prom dresses were purchased at Perimeter Mall’s Jessica McClintock store.

I went on first dates — and at least one last date — at Turner Field. Those were years after witnessing one of the longest-ever World Series games in 1995 at Fulton County Stadium.

When I met AD, I called him “AJC Andrew” because he freelanced for the south’s largest newspaper, so very impressive to a 19-year-old journalism major. I’m not sure I’ve ever been as proud as the mornings my columns ran in that same newspaper two years later.

I know where I was when the IOC declared, “It’s Atlanta!” And where I was years later when the blast rocked Olympic park, realizing my parents were at another venue at that very moment.

All of us are tied to places we never actually lived, right?

Where we went to college. Where we spent holidays with our grandparents. Where we vacationed each summer.

My concept of home has been evolving lately. Cheering for the Falcons feels like cheering for home. So I’m all in.

We’ve lived away from “home” for a long time. Occasionally it’s still hard to think of ourselves as Arkansans, even after 15 years here.

Simon is a native of our adopted state, and our professional satisfaction comes daily from the hospitality, love and community we’ve found in Little Rock. We’ll throw out a “Woo Pig” on occasion (especially against Florida).

We adore living here. We know this is home now. But we can’t shake our roots.

Not long after I moved to Little Rock, an editor at the Democrat-Gazette dispatched me to a small town to cover a higher education coordinating board meeting. It was pre-iPhone, and I had some ratty handouts of MapQuest directions in the passenger’s seat.

I got lost as hell, and drove around in the night for an hour before I finally surrendered and stopped at a gas station along a country highway to ask the way back to Little Rock.

I was exhausted, had just barely met deadline and had already been barked at by the copy desk. At 21, I felt like I was playing dress-up in a pinstripe Peite Sophisticate suit that draped my shoulders. I remember swallowing hard to keep it together when I got out of my car at that gas station.

As I walked up to the counter, a familiar melody from the overhead speaker hit me like a gut punch.

“Other arms reach out to me.”

“Other eyes smile tenderly.”

“Still in peaceful dreams I see …

the road …

leads back …

to you.”

I melted-ass-down. Couldn’t even ask for directions as I ugly cried about how numbingly homesick I was in the middle of this south Arkansas fill-up stop. The clerk came out from behind the desk and hugged me.

Pure Arkansas. And pure South Georgia too.

In the background, Ray Charles kept at it.

“No peace I find. Just an old sweet song …”

I’d spent my whole life in Georgia and wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be to go somewhere else, even though I fiercely loved the guy and the career I embarked for.

I leaned in hard after that gas station breakdown. I was going to learn to love Arkansas, for the brief time we expected to be there before we headed back to Atlanta.

A favorite inside joke became singing Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say.”

“Tell your ma,

Tell your pa,

I’m gonna send you back to Arkansas.”

My home, my car, my office, my social media — everything is littered with reminders of home. State-shaped art. Peach ice cream recipes. Jimmy Carter campaign buttons.

I know when I start talking about how much we miss Georgia, people must be thinking, “OK, then move back there.” (Or in ATL dialect, “Delta’s ready when you are, hon.”)

We’ve tried. We’ll probably try again.

But it’s harder once you attach the idea of home to a place. I don’t look forward to having a gas station moment over Johnny Cash. (I envision this actually happening while sitting in 14 lanes of traffic during a three-hour commute. THAT will be a daily reminder of what we’ve embraced about Little Rock.)

So please excuse my fervent fangirling over the Falcons for at least the next 24 hours. I’m blaring Ludacris, drinking Sweetwater and reveling in the nostalgia of moments that made me who I am.

I guess I’m really just rooting for home.

* * *

Hilary DeMillo is a Georgia Bulldog surviving in Razorback Country. She and her husband Andrew live in Little Rock.

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