Atlanta has always loomed large in my family’s personal accounting of its history.
We aren’t Georgians, as far as I know, at least not on any branches of the family tree close enough to crane your neck and see. I didn’t know the word Atlanta when I was three because this green, rolling state, with its peanuts and its peaches, had anything to do with us or our shared, Carolinian past.
I knew because, a century and a half before I moved into a leafy apartment on its outskirts, General William Tecumseh Sherman was here.
I grew up in the Deep South, where Sherman’s name was not said — it was spit. The split of the country still runs deep and fever-hot in the blood of its Southern inhabitants, as does the smoldering of Atlanta.
The Battle of Atlanta began 150 years ago this week, and the city fell the following September. Sherman began his March to the Sea after that, trailing fire down to Milledgeville, which was then the state capital, and Savannah.
I am no historian, and cannot trace the significance of Sherman’s presence here. I see it only in the most rudimentary, basic ways; I know, for example, it’s part of the reason for the youth and spareness of the buildings lining Atlanta’s streets.
I do know, though, that I am grateful for the reflection of the sunset in the Westin, for the crumbling headstones and graceful Southern dead in Oakland Cemetery. For the crack of a baseball bat and the soft lining of trees and, especially, for the rumblings of diversity rising against the odds in scattered, vibrant neighborhoods.
I am grateful for my borrowed city, which rose from the ashes.