Friday, November 10, 2006

My Mother's Condo

There is something about this place. I’m in northern Florida, almost Georgia. I don’t know if it’s the Spanish moss that hangs from the branches of the trees. Or if it’s the incredibly slow pace of everything, and how older women refer to you as chil’, or honey chil’ in sweet sing song voices. Of course, everyone else calls you Ma'am- which is far better than Miss. Once you’ve start being called Miss, you know you are old. Very old. My mother was Miss Anne down here. Even the old women called her Miss Anne. The first time I get called Miss, it’s time to put on the elastic waistband pants and give up. My young boys get called Sir. It is not meant to be funny. It is a reality of social class.

And that’s the pull and the push. The love and the hate. I love the beauty- on any given day, you can see dolphins swim along the coastline. I found a horseshoe crab shell that was two feet across and at least four feet long on the beach yesterday.

I know, it sounds like a fish story. So I went back with my camera to take a picture. I knew no one would believe me.

A dog had found the shell and torn it apart.

Even better the dog ate it. You’ll have to take my word. Or come down and walk the beach. On any given day you can walk away with a whole sand dollar, a handful of shark teeth and an intact conch shell. Sometimes with the conch still inside.

It is completely unlike Southern Florida here. The palm trees line beaches but just inland are giant oaks. One woman said to me, in her kind drawl, this is really Georgia. Just a little warmer.

My mother was a southerner. To her core. For me, it was a foreign country we visited every two years when I was growing up. Virginia. North Carolina. Once the Mason Dixon line was crossed, ice tea was on the menu and hushpuppies were corn fritters, not some ridiculous shoe. My brother and I would salivate over the opportunity to have exotic kinds of pop- we were from Rochester. It wasn’t soda. It wasn’t tonic. It was pop. My favorite was Dr. Pepper. It was only available down south. My brother’s, Mountain Dew. My mother rarely had anything more than Kool-Aid in the house. But down south, there were bottles of Co-Cola, known as Coke to us harsh mouthed Yankees, Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew always in my great aunts and grandparents refrigerators.

My great aunts once took us to a restaurant with ‘the best ham in Virginia.’ I don’t remember where the restaurant was but I do know I was the only child in my family who loved ham more than sweets. Green beans were served, too, cooked with a ham hock for about 8 hours on a stove, till they were but slivers, a mere memory of what once sat on the vine with nutritional value. I think my great aunts believed there must be some southerner in my blood. They never met a natural born foodie before. I remember there were white linen napkins and elegant Black men in tuxedos serving us. The gracious dance between my aunts, my mother and the men. My mother played a game she learned from birth on but grew to reject. My aunts believed God himself ordained their place at the table, the men’s place standing, serving. I remember the dance.

The dance goes on today, here. As if the years of civil rights never happened. In a way, they did not here. We can be as liberal as we want, dictate laws for the country but in this South, men still drive in trucks with KKK emblems on them. And unlike the confederate flag that finds itself waved by drunken college students north and south of the border as a sign or rebellion, the KKK logo is unmistakable and frightening. I drove behind a truck here, in the safety of the gated community where the condo is, where the logo for the construction business was the same black, red and white.

I was scared. I may be white. I may be privileged. In that moment, I was a lesbian and afraid.

So why would I want to be here?

I can’t quite explain. It’s part of my history. My upbringing. My mother was a southerner. There was calm and peace in the sweet drawls with which my grandparents and great aunts spoke. I loved the sounds. The time they took to speak coincided with the time they took in life. Things were done with care, slowly. Maybe only because of the unbearable afternoon heat that simply makes you sit down and have iced tea. Maybe because they refused to have the carpetbaggers tell them how to live.

I love the food. The grits and pecans and softly scrambled eggs. The black-eyed peas gently mashed into stewed tomatoes. And of course, the ham.

It’s still a foreign country to me. The dance between privilege and poverty is painful. It makes me angrier today than when I was a child because I understand the acceptance. When my children ask why someone would live in a shanty- and there are many on the way- I explain about poverty, racism, education and opportunity. And if my boys can ride bikes through an inner city neighborhood in Boston, I want them to be able to walk through here and be comfortable but aware.

Both have served me well in my life.

And I love the dolphins.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:08 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home