Category Archives: North Carolina

Retirement no nos: more snow, guns and buttholes

Port Stanley

Port Stanley

The other night, while doing the dogs’ Last Pee, I commented on the night sky.  On a clear night Port Stanley’s skies are star-studded.  It’s just another one of the perks of living in a small fishing village on the shores of Lake Erie with next to nothing in the way of light pollution.

“If you think the stars are bright here,” said my husband, “You should see them up north.  Why, on certain nights,  you can  see the Aurora Borealis!”

An innocent enough remark if we hadn’t just been discussing where we ought to move when we retire.  I like the idea of retiring in situ.  He likes to at least entertain the notion of retiring elsewhere.  “What about B.C.? What about the West Coast?” he asked.

I shook my head.  “Land is too expensive out west.”

“Not in Squamish!”

“I don’t want to live in Squamish.”

“What’s wrong with Squamish?”

He tried a new tack:  “What about Tobermory?”

Now, I love me some Bruce Peninsula, but I am of the firm opinion that, as one ages, one should run away and not towards more snow.“Too much snow,” I said.

Then the conversation took the inevitable tack.  “What about up north?”

Ken is from Timmins, Ontario. If you want to know how north that is, it’s north of the Artic Water Shed. There are two seasons in Timmins: a two month long summer and a ten month long winter.  The summer is beautiful if you don’t mind black flies the size of fruit bats.  The winter is . . .  Well, let me put it this way. In Timmins there is so much snow that they  can’t remove it from the streets — nowhere to put it —  so instead they pack it down, raising the level of the street  two feet. You have to bend down to feed your parking meter.  In my opinion, that is too much snow.  Way too much snow.

“What?” he says in mock chagrin.  “You won’t consider retiring up north, but you expect me to agree to retiring down south!”

Now, that’s where I’ve got him.  I used to want to return someday  to my home state of North Carolina, to warm weather and piney woods and dogwood blossoms blowing in the air, to the place my ancestors have lived for three hundred years.

Lately, however, I’ve come to reconsider my position.

Open carry laws such as North Carolina sports piss me off.  I’m afraid that, if the butthole ahead of me in line at a Starbucks happened to have a gun poking out of his back pocket, I would find it virtually impossible not to wonder aloud and to anyone who would listen about the size of his penis.  I told my husband this once and he got quite angry with me.  “If you did that, I’d be expected to defend you,” he pointed out. “Against a guy with a gun.”

The North Carolina Legislature’s  recent anti-LGBTQ measures are another thing that really pisses me off.  If there was a business where I lived that would not serve LGBTQ people, I would feel morally obliged to picket said  establishment, hoisting a sign on which had been inscribed witty, salient invective . . . when what I really want to do in my Golden Years is go on field naturalist walks wearing khakis and a Tilley hat and knit sweaters for penguins tarred by oil spills.


Downtown Timmins

No, as far as I’m concerned, Port Stanley is just fine.  I can see the stars.  There’s snow, but not so much snow that you want to kill yourself.   Guns are controlled, everyone’s human rights are respected and buttholes, though certainly present, do not constitute a majority of the population.

If I want to see the Aurora Borealis, I will go to Iceland.   Which I would like to do.  Once. For a week. And then come home. To Port Stanley.

The magic in names: slavery and my family

noni mike_NEW

Michael and Noni

My brother Michael remembers Noni,  our paternal grandmother, asking him, “Don’t you think it would be just terrible if you had to go to school with little colored boys and girls?” This would have been in 1954, just after Brown vs. the Board of Education; Mike would have been nine at the time. He remembered thinking about the black boys he played with at the swimming hole and in the park — about Dave and Frank and Harry — and said no, he wouldn’t mind.   He thought it would be kind of fun.

By the time I knew Noni, she was slip-sliding down into the slough of senility, thanks to a decades-long drug habit. I didn’t dislike her, but I didn’t exactly love her either. Dementia is never endearing and perhaps I sensed the hostility between her and my mother, although I was not to understand the considerable animus between those two until I was an adult. And then there was Noni’s every-Christmas-without-fail gift to me — a set of three gi-normous old lady panties. This was a gift to which I took considerable umbrage. Did my grandmother really think my ass was THAT big?

If my brain were an attic, in one part of that attic, tucked away down under the eaves, you’d find a mildewed hatbox full to bursting with mouldering confederate money, a battered steamer trunk stuffed with moth-eaten petticoats and tattered ball gowns and, a musty, dog-eared history of the Eastern North Carolina branch of the Hardy family published in 1964 by one David Hardee. Hardee, Hardie, Hardy – we’re all the same family; it was just that some of us could spell and others not. Lately, I’ve been poking around in that old corner of the attic, stirring up dust, sending up ragged clouds of moths, sifting through old mouse poop in an attempt to understand my family in the context of history and of race.

Which was how I stumbled upon an inventory of the Bertie County, North Carolina estate of  my forebear William Hardy. According to a will drawn up in 1793, the estate included:

  • Farm equipment — saws, fire tongs, shovels, hoes;
  • Produce – corn, potatoes, salt, flour, flax, cotton;
  • Livestock – 5 horses, 34 cattle, 15 sheep, 14 sows, 65 pigs and 47 other hogs, 22 chickens, 25 turkeys and 47 other fowls, 4 stocks of bees, a yoke of oxen;
  • Books – a Bible, Prayer Book, 3 volumes of Mares arithmetic, Harvey’s Meditations;
  • Furniture – tables, table cloths, chests, 4 beds, 2 pillows, 12 chairs, pots, pans, candles, candle snuffers, candlesticks, glasses, plates, knives, forks;
  • Tools and supplies– one file, one surveyor chair, money scales, 5 spinning wheels, 5 pairs of cards, carpenter tools, 1 cart, 67 weight of pewter, 2 saddles, 2 bridles, 2 grindstones, tailor shears, looking glasses, mill picks, writing paper, 40 barrels of turpentine, 1 bag, 2 wallets, 2 towels, guns

It also included, “Negroes as follows: Dave, Frank, Harry, Tom, Abram, Ben Rofe, Wink Bett,  Brutus, Andrew, Daniel,  Simon, Peter, Matt, Abram, Woman Bell, Woman Penn, Girl Rose, Girl Easter, Girl Polly.”

According to the will, the slaves were to be divided between William’s wife Sarah and his children. Only the sons got land, but everybody “received” one or two in slaves in formulations that read like this:

“Sarah Sutton received Matt and Simon and other sundries worth 118 pounds, 8 shillings and 8 pence.”

“Lamb Hardy received his 1/6 part of the land, negro boy Daniel, and other sundries worth 118 pounds, 8 shillings and 12 pence.”

It was their names that got me. You don’t think of a slave being named Dave, for example, or Frank or Harry and yet Dave and Frank and Harry they were and Penn and Rose and Easter and negro boy Daniel . . . and they were passed down from father to child in the same breath as forty barrels of turpentine (William was a cooper by trade) or a yoke of oxen. According to a Census of Bertie County taken some 67 years later in 1860, Ellinor Hardy, Humphrey Hardy and Jason Hardy all owned slaves — 79, 33 and 39 respectively — but these were merely enumerated; they were not named. The fact that I know the names of William Hardy’s slaves makes them more real for me.   Whereas Noni lamented a future in which her precious grandson might have to go to school with nameless “little colored boys and girls,”  Michael knew the names of his playmates and did not find the prospect of associating with them in any way problematic.  There is a kind of magic in names.

family crestIf I believed in God, I would ask Him for forgiveness — for generations of my family going back three centuries, for my demented. racist grandmother, and for myself.   But I don’t believe in God, so, instead, I’m sending this out across the arc of history, across the span of 220 years that separates us in time: Dave, Frank, Harry, Tom, Abram, Ben Rofe, Wink Bett,  Brutus, Andrew,  Frank, Simon, Peter, Matt, Abram, Bell, Penn, Rose, Easter, and Polly,  I am sorry and I’m ashamed.

And now it’s high time I clean out that bloody attic.



My life’s work apparently

Me when I first began work on Sabra the Astonishing.

Me when I first began work on Sabra the Astonishing.

Well, I’ve finally finished Sabra the Astonishing, thirty seven years after I first put pen to legal pad in the carrels of the austere library of the Dumbarton Oaks Institute for Byzantine Studies, where I was, as it turns out, masquerading as a serious scholar. I was supposed to be writing my dissertation on the life of Athanasius, the fourth-century bishop of Alexandria. Put off by the need to stick to known facts, however, increasingly obsessed with Marian visions, in particular,  the case of Bernadette Soubirous, and, not to put too fine a point on it,  unraveling, I began instead to write a novel, which I described decades later in an application to the Ontario Arts Council thusly:

Sabra the Astonishing is the story of a teenage girl who sees an apparition which she takes to be the Virgin Mary . . . which it most definitely is not. Indeed, it is something far more sinister. Set in the sixties in the tobacco country of North Carolina, the novel explores the phenomenon of Marian visions and the steamier underside of Catholic excess.”

The novel went through a number of iterations, the most recent of which was completed twenty five years ago. My agent circulated it; no takers. My ex once described it less than kindly as, “bloated,” and, in retrospect, he was right. Sabra the Astonishing  erred on the side of excess; rather like the obese fellow traveler who sits next to you in coach, it had a propensity to ooze.  Nevertheless, I’ve always felt that the manuscript contained some of my best writing and the fact that it has languished in the bottom drawer of my file cabinet for so many years has been a source of  melancholy for me. Unpublished novels render one wistful. They are like dead babies; you can’t help but mourn them, to wonder what might have been had they been allowed to live.

This past year, I decided to have one more go at it, so I pulled out the manuscript and had a critical read.  This is what looking at a novel written by a young woman through an old woman’s eyes revealed:

  • Characters that don’t belong. I quickly realized that I had to kill off one of the lead characters; though darling, he was absolutely extraneous to the plot. (Those of you who follow this blog will have been privy to Lorenzo Da Silvio’s murder over several posts, each purporting to be the last.   I couldn’t help it; he was everywhere.)
  • Time and Place: Despite the fact that the novel takes place on Easter Monday, 1963, I had done nothing to set it in the period. I’ve now spent the last six months researching what training bra Sabra would have been wearing, what episode of Wagon Train might have played that night, and what brand of tranquilizers were vegetizing her mother. Thank God for the Internet. A related disconnect was the fact that, although Sabra’s family owns a big tobacco company and it’s the sixties, no one smokes! I addressed this problem by making everybody smoke all the time. One even dies of lung cancer.
  • Acknowledging the Zeitgeist: For a book set not forty miles from Greensboro, North Carolina where the lunch counter sit-ins had taken place just three years earlier . . . moreover, for a novel with several black characters, the fact that there was no acknowledgement of the Civil Rights Movement was, well, weird.
me at 60

Me when I finished The Virgin of Ararat.

The young woman was caught up in the story, in  action; the old woman, in context.

All these oversights have now been rectified and I will be sending the novel out again, but under a new title this time – The Virgin of Ararat. I’m doing this in the hopes that any editors who might have rejected it a quarter of a century ago will think it’s a different book altogether. Shhh! Let’s let that be our little secret.

Why I am not a runner: double exposure

My brother Peter and I that long ago summer

My brother Peter and I that long ago summer

Summers were brutal in the Piedmont when I was a girl; I suspect they still are. Because my family spent the months of May through to the end of August in the mountains, the half a summer I spent in Chapel Hill when I was twenty was atypical. I remember the sky that summer as a fierce white glare, visible heat waves radiating off asphalt, and the air clinging to me like a sodden blanket. Every day around four thirty in the afternoon, I’d sit on out on the veranda, eviscerated by heat, and watch as towering storm clouds began to build over Durham to the west and begin their slow slouch towards Chapel Hill, looking for all the world like Armageddon on the move. A half an hour later, a clattering rain and the heat would snap in two like a twig, followed by twenty minutes of blessed relief before the whole enervating cycle began all over again. Most places were air-conditioned to meat locker level; our house was not. We did not spend summers in town, after all, and the house was a big one and drafty. What we did have was an attic fan, which sucked the hot air in, chopped it up and then recirculated it in soggy chunks. This was not as helpful as might be imagined. Sleeping was difficult; cooking was impossible; and digestion was complicated. Which makes it hard for me to remember why I thought that that summer in Chapel Hill was a good time to take up running.

Let me state right off the top that the Universe did not design me for running.  I am a pear. When I was young, I was a small pear. Now, having gained in age and wisdom, I am a medium sized pear.  Moreover, I’m a pear with flat feet and turnout. I run, to put it bluntly, like a duck.

Nevertheless, being resolved to get in shape, I donned baggy, paint stained running shorts and a roomy men’s t-shirt and plodded forth.  I will not dignify what I was doing by labeling it “running,” or even “jogging.” It was plodding, plain and simple. One flat foot after the other. As for the time of day I set aside for this self-improvement program, it was the noon hour. Why didn’t I plod in the morning or the evening, you ask, when it was arguably, if not actually cooler? To which I would reply that I was in class all morning and by late afternoon I was a puddle, incapable of doing anything more physical than languish.  Noon seemed like a good idea at the time.

One blisteringly hot day, when I was on the home stretch and Tenney Circle within sight, a battered white sedan pulled up next to me and stopped. I plodded by. It pulled ahead and stopped again. Again I plodded by. Again the car pulled ahead, then lurched to a stop. Do I know this person, I wondered, and glanced in the car to see the nether regions of a man wearing no pants and masturbating. I hauled off and kicked the car hard on the passenger side door. It sped away, but not before I memorized the license plate number. When I got home, I called the police. Twenty minutes later the police called me. They had caught my flasher, apparently still pant free. Did I wish to press charges? I did.

Shortly thereafter the flasher’s lawyer called me. The man had been an orderly at a hospital in Durham; he had been fired because of the indecency charge and his wife had left him, taking their two-year old son. Hadn’t the poor bastard paid a stiff enough price for his indiscretion, no innuendo intended? And speaking of discretion, was my own past so spotless that my sexual history (relatively unexciting as that was) might not be used against me in court? Might it not have been the case that my scanty attire (see above description of said attire) provoked this response in his client? I was twenty years old and clearly spineless. I dropped the charges. One for chauvinism; zero for feminism.

I did not, however, stop plodding.

Several weeks later found me laboriously plodding my way down North Street, not one miserable endorphin to my name, when I spotted a man walking towards me. It was, of course, the noon hour; the rest of the world sat huddled inside their refrigerated homes; the street was deserted. The man appeared to be doing something peculiar with his hands, just what I was too myopic to make out until . . . wouldn’t you know it? His fly was open and he was masturbating.  I quickly recalculated, took a hard left up Boundary Street, then another left down Rosemary to Glenburnie, before making my way home in a state of considerable perplexity. It was noon, for Pete’s sake! Never mind Take Back the Night. How about Take Back the Noon?

My first flasher was white, my second black. I was, it seems, an equal opportunity victim. These two experiences, happening as they did within a couple of weeks of each other, flummoxed me. Were I and my two flashers like mad dogs and Englishmen – the only creatures crazy enough to come out in the noon day sun? Why were they trawling a deserted neighbourhood for lone plodding pears and not checking out the nearby college campus, awash in tasty coeds? Do many men spend their lunch hour this way? Does this happen all the time or was I just special?

At age 22 I made a commitment to regular exercise that I have kept for the last forty years, as both a fitness instructor and a participant. I never make a New Year’s resolution to exercise. I don’t need to. It’s the one thing . . .  perhaps the only thing . . . that I really, truly have down. But plodding is not part of my regimen.  And this is why.

Viva the Tidewater!

A map depicting the various American Nations identified by Colin Woodward in his book, North American Nations.

A map depicting the various American Nations identified by Colin Woodard in his book, North American Nations.

This question has long flummoxed me: “How can I self-identify as both a Southerner and an American and still find the mindset of fully half of my fellow countrymen utterly incomprehensible?”

Or, to put it more succinctly, “What is wrong with these people?”

I’ve finally found my answer in Colin Woodard’s fascinating and compelling book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.  According to Woodard — and his arguments are extremely cogent — North America was … and is less a melting pot than a witch’s brew of fundamentally different and often diametrically opposed cultures that do not often see eye to eye.  It turns out I am not alone in my fear and loathing of “those people”.  We’re all in the same boat . . . just in different camps.

In a post for the Washington Post, Reid Wilson summarizes, as per Woodard, the three nations that made up the Southern block of the “United” States:

“Tidewater: The coastal regions in the English colonies of Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Delaware tend to respect authority and value tradition. Once the most powerful American nation, it began to decline during Westward expansion.

“Greater Appalachia: Extending from West Virginia through the Great Smoky Mountains and into Northwest Texas, the descendants of Irish, English and Scottish settlers value individual liberty. Residents are “intensely suspicious of lowland aristocrats and Yankee social engineers.”

“Deep South: Dixie still traces its roots to the caste system established by masters who tried to duplicate West Indies-style slave society, Woodard writes. The Old South values states’ rights and local control and fights the expansion of federal powers.”

I decided to poke around in my family’s history with a slighter sharper stick than I have hitherto deployed in order to ascertain what the Hell kind of Southerner I am,

This is what I discovered.

My direct forebear, John Hardy, was born in 1665 in Dorchestershire, England, immigrated to the James River in Virginia and traveled thence to the Albemarle region of North Carolina via the Chowan River, acquiring 640 acres in what is now Bertie County in 1695 and taking up residence on a property known as the Manor Plantation.  He owned considerable property besides along Salmon Creek and, contrary to my assertions in an earlier blog post, Ruminations on the Confederacy, that we were Crackers, the family was prominent enough that John’s son of the same name held a number of public offices, including sitting as a Member of the House of Burgesses – the oldest legislative body in North Carolina.  My people settled in the Tidewater more than three hundred years ago and  stayed put for fifteen generations. I think it’s safe to say that I am a Tidewaterite.

When I asked my Grandfather Hardy what his people had done in the Civil War, he replied, “Why, they hid in the swamp every time the recruiter came by. They didn’t think the war had anything to do with them. They were dirt farmers.  They didn’t own slaves.”

Turns out Pops was being  a tad disingenuous. Twenty nine Hardys fought on the Confederate side, we did own a small number of slaves, and we were by no means dirt farmers, even though, over time, large land holdings ceased to be the norm in the Tidewater as fathers divided land between their children.

Hardy Family Home in Bertie County -- the before shot

Hardy Family Home in Bertie County

All this explains why there was always something rather courtly about my grandfather, uncle and father — affable, humorous men with nary a whiff of the downright cussedness typical of the denizens of the Nation of Appalachia or the sanctimonious snake-eyed supremicism that characterizes those of the Deep South.

Slavery is a blot on all Southerners’  escutcheon and, no matter how hard you scrub, it doesn’t come out in the wash.  That being said, I’ll take my fellow Tidewater natives Thomas Jefferson and George Washington over Andrew Jackson and George Wallace any day.


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A Little Bit of Little Bit

21 year old me appearing to play the piano.  The operative word is 'appear'.

21 year old me appearing to play the piano. The operative word is ‘appear’.

When I was in my last year of university in my hometown of Chapel Hill, North Carolina I shared a house with two other students whom I will call Becky and Amanda.  There was a third house mate – Stephanie — but only in a theoretical sense.   Her parents paid for a room she did not inhabit, having instead shacked up with her English professor – something we regarded as a  coup.  The only night Stephanie spent under our roof was the one when her parents drove in from Statesville for a visit.  The day before their arrival, the professor and Stephanie showed up with a cargo van and unloaded a bed, a dresser and enough clothes, books and stuffed animals to make of the hitherto unfurnished room a kind of Potemkin’s Village – a façade designed to fool her parents into believing her occupancy a reality; the next day, the hoodwinked parents having been dispatched homewards, Stephanie and the professor reappeared, loaded everything back in the van and returned to their steamy love nest. Never once did it occur to us to blow the whistle on Stephanie.  She had caught a live one; we admired her prowess.

Becky and I shared a room, sleeping on twin mattresses placed on box spring sets on the floor.  The other bedroom was Amanda’s.  Amanda’s father owned a factory that made the kind of fine furniture featured in Better Homes and Gardens; he was loaded.  Her room was furnished with a white Princess canopy bed and matching chest of drawers, bedside tables, dresser and vanity – Barbie would have felt right at home in Amanda’s swanky boudoir. But elegant furnishings and a Daddy with a thick bankroll were not the only reasons Amanda had secured the best bedroom for herself.  Her fiancé Randy was occasionally allowed to spend the night – this despite the fact – as Amanda revealed to us with barely concealed horror – that he had hair everywhere.

Amanda’s father had promised her the biggest, whitest wedding Charlotte, North Carolina has ever seen when she graduated from UNC.  All that she needed to do was find the groom.  This she accomplished with alacrity, if not a great deal of discernment.  By her sophomore year she had managed to rope Randy, the son of impoverished mill workers, into proposing to her.  It took him a further two summers working in the mill to buy her a speck of a diamond ring, which she kept leaving on the open-drained sink in the bathroom.

“You left Randy’s ring on the sink again,” Becky and I would say.

“Oh?” she would reply, looking at it curiously, as if she thought she recognized it but couldn’t quite place it.  “The diamond is so small, it’s as if it’s not there,” she would observe finally, cramming it back onto her knuckle and twisting it into place.

Midway through the year, Amanda came home with a white kitten named Little Bit. Little Bit had chronic cat diarrhea, which is, as I discovered, the worst kind.  For some reason I cannot now fathom, Amanda located the litter box in one corner of the dining room.  For another reason I also cannot fathom, I did not object to this. No sooner had I sat down to my poached egg in the morning, than Little Bit, an inveterate lurker, would burst out from one of his hidy holes and spring to diarrhetic action.   To this day, I have issues with poached eggs.

The real problem with Little Bit, however, was that he sucked hair — obsessively — and this in a house with three long-haired  girls.  Amanda solved her problem by not letting Little Bit into her room; Becky and I had a harder time because Little Bit would sneak up to our bedroom during the day and secret himself under one of our box springs, biding his time until Lights Out, at which point he would sidle forth and ravage our locks.

After being startled awake one too many times to hot cat breath, the insidious sound of feline sucking and the sight of two cat eyes glowing amber in the dark, Becky and I adopted a pre-bed cat-routing strategy.

“Little Bit!” we would call.  “Oh, Little Bit!  Come out!”

Then, when Little Bit did not emerge from his lair, we would start – gingerly – to jump on up and down on our mattresses, bantering as we bounced.

“Omigod! What if Little Bit is now . . .  little bits?”

“We could go to Amanda and say, ‘Here’s a little bit of Little Bit!’”

“Poor Amanda!  She’s bound to miss Little Bit . . . a little bit!”

“While we would miss him not one bit – the little shit!”

And so forth and so on, until Little Bit exploded from beneath whichever the mattress he was hiding under and, in a streak of white fur, shot out the door and down the stairs, doubtless to take refuge in the very hidy hole from which he would emerge eight hours later to savage my breakfast.

Amanda married Randy that summer in a church known as the Pink Vatican; true to her father’s promise, it was the biggest, whitest wedding Charlotte had ever seen.   Becky and I drove down from Chapel Hill for the event. Despite being Amanda’s house mates over the course of that year, we had not made the cut for bridesmaids.  We were too thin.  Amanda, determined not to be upstaged, had recruited the four fattest girls we knew to stand up with her; she outfitted them in exact replicas of the dress Scarlett O’Hara wore to the barbeque at Twelve Oaks, complete with hoop skirts and picture book hats.  The effect was grotesque and not helped by the fact that, throughout the entire awkward ceremony, the pews were a-buzz as wedding guests made bets on how long such an ill-conceived marriage would endure. (Spoiler alert: it lasted three months.)

I associate Amanda’s wedding with the end of my life in the South.  Three months later I would go north to Toronto to pursue an M.A., along with the M.R.S. that I, unlike my more resolute house mate, had failed to secure after four years of university.  I would never return to the South, but would live out my days not just in the North, but the True North — in Canada. Wedding Belles, published in 2002 in the North Carolina Literary Journal, is based  on Amanda’s wedding; but it’s also about what it felt like to be a girl of ‘marriageable’ age at that time in the South –  like being trapped inside an unreliable, old pressure cooker about to blow.

To read Wedding Belles, click on the title.

Ruminations on the Confederacy

redneckI am a Southerner.  A bona fide one.   My direct lineal ancestor, Lemuel Lamb Hardy, was born sometime between 1695 and 1700 in Chowan, Bertie County, North Carolina and died there on Salmon Creek in 1750. Solomon Zant, my mother’s Great (times five) Grandfather on her father’s side was probably born in Switzerland, but made it to Ebenezer, now a ghost town in Effingham County, Georgia in time to hitch up with Elizabetha Keiffer  on March 24, 1767.[i]

My point is: my Southern roots go back to before the U.S. became a country.  We came early to this party and we stayed late. Which gives me the right to comment on this whole “Romance of the South/ Up with the Confederacy” CRAP coming up through the drains these days, poisoning our public discourse with pure vituperative nonsense.

Any student of American history knows that the United States was founded on a fault line – slavery – and that it was only a matter of time before tectonic plates shifted and the nation was rent asunder. A civil war was in the cards from Day One. In fact, pace Tea Party,  it’s arguable that the Second Amendment had a lot more to do with assuring Southern whites that they would be able to surpress a slave rebellion than it did with ensuring that patriots could defend themselves from some nonspecific tyranny.  It still does. “Don’t want too many of them brown people getting up in our white business, after all.”  Isn’t that what you believe?

There was nothing romantic about the Old South.   It was predicated on an abomination.  The Southern “way of life” was a rare bloom growing from a great reeking heap of manure.  Africans did not benefit from being dragged to these shores in chains and then treated worse than pack animals.  (The wonder is that they have managed to succeed to the great extent that they have, enriching our culture beyond anything us honkies could pulled off under similar circumstances.)   As for the ladies, corsets like Scarlett O’Hara wore resulted in everything from squashed ribs and hearts to displaced spleens.   If childbirth didn’t get you, your corset surely would.  (Not that you could ever hope for a seventeen inch waist.  I’m talking to you, Paula Deen.)

And here’s the kicker, those of you just a-longing for those good old days upon the Swanee River, for most of you that will be a case of nostalgie de la boue.  Because you descend from Crackers.  Yes, Crackers.  All of you who are so proud to call yourselves ‘Rednecks’?    Crackers. Tenant farmers.  Dirt Farmers. Poor white trash.  You know how to tell?   Do you have a great grandmother who belonged to the Daughters of the Confederacy?  Is your daughter eligible to be a debutante in North Carolina or Georgia or Mississippi?  No? I thought so.  Crackers.

I’m a Cracker too.  I once asked my Grandfather Hardy what his people had done in the Civil War.  “Why, they hid in the swamp every time the recruiter came by,” he told me.   “They didn’t think the war had anything to do with them. They were dirt farmers.  They didn’t own slaves.”

And your relatives probably didn’t either, so stop dreaming!

When I was twelve years old, I read Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind for the first time. Then I read it four more times.   I loved it.  I fell for it hook, line and sinker.   For a number of years it informed my view of the Civil War and the history of the United States and my own identity as a Southern woman.  Excuse me.  As a flower of Southern Womanhood.

Then I grew up.

So don’t save your Confederate money, boys.  The South will not rise again.  And you are not who you think you are and never will be. So just get over it.  And, while you’re at it, learn to spell.

[i] (Interestingly enough, Ebenezer was established in 1734 by 150 Salzburger Protestants who had been expelled from the Archbishopric of Salzburg in present-day Austria for religious reasons.  Elizabetha was a Saltzburger, as was Solomon’s mother.  The town was intended to be a religious Utopia on the Georgian frontier, but that’s another story.)

Colored washrooms

I grew up in the American South.  I remember colored  washrooms and water fountains whites onlyand swimming pools – clearly being black was thought to be water borne.  If you think that’s bad, my mother remembered the sign posted on the way out of Durant, Oklahoma, the shit-hole she was born in.   It read, “Any (N-word) caught in town after dark will be lynched.”

My home town, not a shit hole, was really two towns, separated by a railroad track. On one side of the track was Chapel Hill, home to the University of North Carolina and populated by professors and university staff and the merchants who serviced students and faculty.

On the other side was Carrboro, home to black millworkers, the legion of maids and yard men who worked for white people over in Chapel Hill and the taxi cab drivers who ferried them back and forth to their jobs.  Growing up we thought taxis were exclusively for black people. Nobody else took them. We all had cars.

Each town had its own high school – and then, the year I entered high school, they didn’t.  The high schools were integrated, merged into one and housed in a brand new building on the outskirts of town.  The principal of the white high school became the principal of the new, integrated high school and the principal of the black high school, its vice-principal.    What could go wrong?

Well, not a whole lot actually. Oh, there was a little pushing and shoving, some brandishing of lead pipes, but what really stirred the pot at my high school was interracial dating. That is to say, high status black boys – athletes or musicians – courting second-tier white girls.  By “second tier” I mean nice enough girls ranking maybe a seven on the high school desirability scale –   not quite enough looks and/or personality points to snag a high-status white boyfriend, but not a complete dog’s regurgitated snack either. (BTW:  In case you think I’m being unduly mean girl in my estimation o, I had no boyfriend whatsoever in high school. Of any rank … or race.  I don’t even want to speculate what the Hell tier I was on!)

This intermingling of the races (and  there was intermingling) may have set white parents’ hair on fire and culminated in all manner of groundings and ultimatums, but the ones whose butt  it burned  most were  black girls. They were furious and rightly so. They were also big.  If you were a white girl, you stayed out of their bathroom.  Because, yes, the school might have been integrated, but the bathrooms were not.  This wasn’t a formal arrangement, but it was understood.  And it was the black girls who enforced it.

One year I was on the staff of the school’s literary magazine and two of my fellow editors made a practice of hanging out at a filling station on the old Pittsboro Road, where they would goad the gas station’s owner — a hoary coot who looked kind of like Gomer Pyle’s evil twin — into making outrageously racist remarks.  “If any of them (N-words)  come around here,” he’d say, “I’ll bust me up a Pepsi crate and make ‘em wiggle.”  We thought this was hilarious.  Then, again, we thought abandoning a cow in the high school’s second floor lobby overnight was also hilarious.  Do you know how hard it is to convince a cow to go downstairs?

Recently I read Kathryn Stockett’s novel, The Help, where a white employer fires her maid for using the family bathroom.

Then I remembered.

In the otherwise unfinished basement of the house I grew up in, was a bathroom.  It was just off the back porch, which, in turn, was just off the kitchen.  You could access it from the outside by a set of stairs.  No one ever used this bathroom.  It was smelly and full of cobwebs, and, besides, there were rats in our basement. My mother used to refer to them in the collective as “Willard.”

It had never before occurred to me what that bathroom was for.  Our maids – Altherea, who didn’t do windows, Camellia and then Amelia, daughter of Camellia — all used the same bathrooms we did.  After all, they were cleaning ladies.  How could they be unclean?  It was  illogical.

But there could was escaping the obvious.  The bathroom in the basement had been the help’s bathroom, the ‘colored’ bathroom.    How could I have lived in that house all those years – with its butler’s pantry and its back staircase and the button on the floor in the centre of what was our family room, but had originally been the dining room, placed there so that the lady of the house could summon a servant from the kitchen without rising from the table. . .  .  How could I have lived in that house all those years and not known what that basement bathroom was for?

I guess I didn’t think.

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