Have any of you ever written something, that, in retrospect… seemed, well, prophecy? I found this essay when going through some old back-up files. I have hem-hawed about posting it, but, well, I suppose why not?
I wrote the following essay in 2007. And posted it, in a more truncated, edited form on a previous blog venture… This version is quite long. And diverges a bit at the end… (probably the original, edited-out part), but that is the part that seems prophetic.
Grab a cup of coffee or tea, and let me know what you think:
There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South. Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind…
— From the opening of the film Gone with the Wind (1939)
VISITING GEORGIA AGAIN…
Visiting Georgia again was almost an out-of-body experience for me – it had a strangely alien, familiarity. I had been away for so long. The familiar seemed strange and the strange, a little unnerving at times. Much has changed. Little has remained the same. But there is still that sense of being that is the South. It’s an entity in its own right, it is aware.
That awareness, transcended the newness of the place. But, I could feel it was dying.
I don’t know really why I was compelled to take this trip when I did. When I have urges like this though, I rely on faith there is a purpose to it. Even if I don’t see it right then. It’s like a hand pushing me gently along… and although I have fought the urges before, it seemed a natural enough path.
It’s my birthplace.
The place where I grew up. The place I became aware in. Up until I was twelve, it was my home. I think that’s my connection to southern writers like Alice Walker. There’s a peace and a solitude; and a sense of community in the South I have found nowhere else.
The faces were familiar. I recognized the lines in the faces of the older gentleman, the set of the eyes and the jaw. There’s a certain look to people from the South. Their smiles seemed to say, “Come on in”. The air itself a warm comfortable blanket welcoming me back.
Perhaps this familiarity is because in my mind, Georgia is the basis of reality for me. The center-point of my awareness. It’s where I came into being. It’s where I found my faith. I was baptized in its waters. And why phrases from Alice Walker’s writings brings tears to my eyes. Her words were what ultimately lifted the veil of self-pity and restraint from my eyes, helping me see the world as it is. Not how I wish it to be. We speak the same language.
It’s been difficult to adjust to life back here in Kentucky in the past few days.
I feel like a puzzle piece that has fallen away and is being shoved back into the wrong place. It just doesn’t all fit. But the further I get away from the experience , the easier it is to ignore the faulty edges. I am content to just Be.
My mother finally got to meet and get to know her grandchildren. The girls had a wonderful time with her. They both finally have a face to put with the name, “Grandma”, and some experiences with her to support the knowledge. Mom has ceased to be the demon of my past and is now a part of my daughters’ present and future. As it should be.
The surreal parts didn’t have anything to do with my mother and the visit with her though. That was ultimately a side-journey.
The real journey began when I was driving to one of the nearby towns for groceries. I passed a sign that said “Andalusia – home of Flannery O’Connor”.
I was compelled to go back out there later to see the place.
There was a vague recognition of both names. I had read something about it. I drove the car up the dirt driveway, and felt again a vague familiarity.
As I turned the bend, I couldn’t help but stare at the pond off to the left. The old house had a peaceful melancholy about it. I was particularly drawn to the rows of large white rocking chairs on the screened-in front porch. To me, always a symbol of that peaceful solitude and community that is The South.
I met a man and a woman coming in to visit the place and was informed by the gentleman of the history. It wasn’t until he said Ms. O’Connor suffered from Lupus that I fully remembered who she was. I had read some of her work in my college literature courses.
I took a few pictures of the porch and the surroundings. I had the girls in tow and couldn’t really focus all of my attention on the experience. But I enjoyed it nonetheless and seeing Andalusia led me to further adventures later.
Later in the week, I went back to town to find some tourist info and found out Alice Walker was from the next town! I was excited at the opportunity to see the place where she grew up. The place where she came into being. So, we took the long drive to Wards Chapel Road and got to see some of the sites.
We never did find the plantation house where her mother had lived.
But we did find the church and the graveyard. And, finally, the house where Alice Walker grew up. I stood at the edge of the field by the house, staring out across the lime green grasses peppered with rolled bails of brown hay and wondered if she had stood in that exact spot. I took a breath and the girls began to scream “Mommy!” and the moment was over.
I had an urge to find a mansion in the brochure and take pictures…
This was the sideways journey that led me to an old civil war graveyard.
As I was searching for the Antebellum mansions downtown, I made a wrong turn. I found myself entering, of all things, a graveyard.
Cold-chills travelled down my spine and gasped in recognition. I had dreamed about this graveyard. The large stone slabs over the graves to the right, the slight bend in the road ahead, the line of small trees and shrubs to the left.
I took some pictures of the graveyard, especially the graves with Dixie flags planted at them. Many of them were soldiers that had died in the War. The flags waved in the warm breeze, a reminder of the conflict that tore the country apart. And a symbol of pride for those who stood up and fought for their communities and their livelihood. Ultimately, they gave up their lives for it.
Georgia doesn’t have the Dixie Flag anymore.
They have replaced it with a more politically correct logo… but I can’t help feeling something was lost when they did that. A sense of history. A sense of pride. However wrong their reasons, states like Georgia remind us how this democracy works. And how it can become broken. And the lengths we had to go to, to repair it.
The eerie feeling of the graveyard followed me. Like the ravens and buzzards. They always seemed to be circling in the distance, whether I was at the Graveyard on Wards Chapel Road or at the Old Civil War Graveyard… or just driving down the highway.
At one point, I was startled to see two ravens fly at each other, an old sign of impending war.
What does this have to do with Flannery O’Connor, Alice Walker, or the Civil War?
I don’t know.
But, I feel we need to learn from our past. Not push it under the rug. Not rename it, place a new symbol on it, and forget.
We need to remember.
The Old South is dying.
Those who continued the bitterness the War caused are dying off. Their views are losing steam. Plowed under by Time itself. The New South is beginning.
What it will be, no one can tell. A wiser one? I hope.
Perhaps, though, it will be like all other aspects of American culture. Thrown aside and forgotten. Plowed over and remade in someone else’s image; like in Appalachia where highways cut through the mountains and bracken is replaced by non-native grasses. Forests that have taken sixty years to re-grow are torn down again for strip-mining of coal. All a sacrifice to the impending promise of Economic ‘Boon’?
Progress is the Big Bulldozer that pushes everything flat, making an even playing field.
I know an even playing field is necessary, but… I will miss the rolling hills and the cultures that grew up in between them.
As the world closes in and becomes more diverse, the diversity within each individual culture will be absorbed into the whole. And ultimately our similarities will win the wars.
In every war there is loss – that is unavoidable.
But I can’t help feeling, in any war… there really are no victors.