It is hard to be in the middle of a family disagreement at the very best of times. These are not the best of times, though all this rain has been an answer to my prayers.
I am still at Aunt Dumpling’s house and the work is almost finished here. I have loved painting and even got the old Singer out to make gingham curtains for the bathroom. Aunt D. had a box of trims and ribbons and I added some big rick-rack along the bottom of the little curtains. They are sweet, old-fashioned.
Most weekends are spent out at the farm. We’re covered up with Kentucky Wonder beans and I set to making a big batch of pickled beans to tide us over come winter time. I had spent the early morning on Saturday picking beans and came into the kitchen with about half a bushel.
My sister–who I love and who is one of my best friends–was hopping mad. Mother was at the table, ready to string and break beans, and Zellie was jumping up and down and yelling about The Flag.
Honestly my back was hurting a little bit–and I’ll be honest with you that me and her have had some words about me staying in town so much. So I was doing my level best to keep my head down and get my work done.
I don’t know why all them morons don’t sit down and shut the BLANK up! You can’t say it ain’t about hate–it is, it is, it is.
Well, Mother had never heard her use that kind of language but I had, because we both have been known to cuss like sailors when we’re out of the house. I set down and started stringing beans with Mother and Zell got us all some coffee.
Everything was peaceful for a few minutes and then, Lord help me, she wagged her finger in my direction and said–what about you? Ain’t you got nothing to say about the flag coming down in South Carolina?
I shook my head and said something like–well, about time, too. I reckon it’s good to get that done down there. Now, I have not been down to South Carolina too much and I don’t care for it and so I don’t really know what they ought to be doing. But I was going along to get along, as Daddy used to say.
Heritage, she muttered. It’s all about hate…and that’s it! She got up and stomped out to the smokehouse to check on the new hams that we hung up a week ago Monday.
Mother shook her head but it got me thinking about the old battle flag. And I thought about those wild old days in the late 70s. My, it was wild and good. We was happy and free and wild as bucks in them days. My Uncle Rodney was still doing white liquor then and he’d pay us to keep the still supplied with good wood and we’d get pint jars in the end. Rodney used to put smashed up blueberries in it sometimes. Lordy, it was a sin for sure. But we loved it and lived to tell the tale.
Back then the flag was about us being wild and free and rebellious and not Baptist. We didn’t even know any black people and figured we was the young generation of Southern rebels. That’s all. It was a sign of us being Southern and hillbillies and wild as hell.
And I know it come to mean hating people who ain’t like you and denying them the basic rights that all Americans is supposed to have. But then, for us, it was a glorious rag of some happy days.
So I get sad thinking that there is just one way to look at it and I was talking to a woman at church about it Sunday morning. Yes, I am not backwards about that no more–I do know black folks, and my friend Martie comes to our little old church with me sometimes. Everybody seems to like her and I never hear no whisperings about her and that’s good. And me and her talk about things that we can’t hardly talk to no one else about.
And I heard about how she had been laughed at and treated bad when she was young and that that flag had been part of it and she hated it and wanted it to go. And then I told her what I just told you all and she shook her head, but she was smiling.
I can’t hardly think of you that wild, Nell, she said. I kind of shrugged my shoulders. When I was in school, my big brother was in the Black Panthers and I wanted to be, too, she said. So I guess I can see that what you did was like the crazy redneck version of that. Being with your people, being free. But I still don’t like it.
I was looking at her with my jaw hanging down. Are you still in the Black Panthers, Martie?
She smiled this secret little smile. That’s for me to know and you to find out, Nelda Cray. And then we had pie. And me and her are going to talk more about how it was when we was young and how it is now and how it can be better for the children who come after us.
But things ain’t so smooth with my sister and I came back to town after church. We’ll get over it–we always do. I’m thinking about what she said and I’m pondering that old war so long ago. It was like this too. Brother against brother–or for us, sister against sister.
Just like America was then–we are a house divided, aren’t we?
Lord have mercy.