Hitting the Road

Old letters and photos, sepia-tones and showing age, with an old ink pen.

I am heading out on Tuesday to the East Coast, via the Deep South, to New England, following the course of our family history back through time. I’m starting roughly where we left off with slavery, in Alabama, and working my way backward through Georgia, South and North Carolina, up to Virginia; Maryland and D.C., then up via train to Boston and the Cape. We will end up at the Mayflower II, if all goes well.

Accompanying me are my elder sister and a cousin, both of whom share my family history, and who were willing to come along for the ride. We are also planning to stop to see some bucket list places, including Chincoteague (PONIES!), Mount Vernon, Gettysburg, and a side trek to visit my brother-in-law in Maryland.

This will add several states to my list, and we are hoping to go bird-nerd crazy (my sister is an excellent birder). I already downloaded the Merlin bird packs for Southeast and Northeast USA to my phone. It is my fondest wish to see a red cardinal somewhere, some time. (Our mutual grandmother Ruth loved cardinals best, and knew them well from her Illinois and Montana childhood. I’ve never seen one.)

Red cardinal bird on the ground.
Courtesy of eBird, https://ebird.org/species/norcar
I’ve never seen one, but I hope to.

My plan is to stop at graveyards to visit ancestors, find their headstones, say hello, what were you thinking, how have you been? We would stop at houses if we could find them, but most of them are gone. There is the ruin of a mansion supposedly haunted by one of our Upshaw forebears, bitten by a rabid fox and smothered by her own servants (enslaved). We will find the plantation lands if possible, and I’ll take photos and see what it looks like now, maybe visualize what they were seeking when they stopped there. The journey has its dark side–but it’s part of my personal reconciliation and reckoning. I very recently joined Coming to the Table, an organization that helps white people reckon with and bear their ancestors’ past slave-owning. Reckon with it, because it is a story many people want to forget or rewrite. Bear it, because there is no reconciling it. Reckon — like recon, to know again, it means to count again, to account for. It’s what I’m trying to do.

Maybe it will just be a fun roadtrip. Or maybe it will change my life. I used to be terrified to travel, because when you leave your safe space (home), bad things can happen. There’s no control. #issues I have mostly grown past that, but once a Catholic, always a Catholic, even when you’re an atheist-pagan, like me. I slipped this little St. Christopher into my coinpurse because I need all the good luck and blessings I can muster.

Round silver medal of St. Christopher held in the palm of a white woman's hand.

I’m still packing. Trying not to be nervous. Mostly excited. Cemeteries and history and cousins, oh my!

bells and whistles and a vuvuzela chorus

You know about the vuvuzela, don’tcha? Well, get out yer vuvuzela, because we had an egg! A little one, and they pecked it to death before I could get out of bed and feed them breakfast — but our chickens (one of them) gave us a practice run. It’s nice to know that someone’s equipment works. Alas, don’t know which hen to cosset and persuade. I’m waiting for more…stay tuned.

The garden continues apace. Here’s what I had for breakfast: a handful of berries on my cereal (note the one lonesome blackberry at top of the photo, above). Sometimes there are a couple of raspberries, mostly a handful of strawberries, occasionally a couple of blackberries. I freeze about a handful of these every day as well. By the end of summer I will have a gallon bag full, ready for jam or cereal-eating until they’re gone. By the way, Grapenuts are the food of the gods. I think I could live on them. It’s my A-Number 1 comfort food.

We continue with the freezing or eating of green beans, tomatoes and zucchini. Added two more quarts of beans to the freezer and have been perusing the various canning books for interesting relish, chutney and chow-chow recipes. I’m still nervous about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang — my pressure cooker — that I haven’t tried her yet. When I become inundated with tomatoes, in 3-4 weeks, that’s when my panic will overwhelm my anxiety, and we’ll start chugging out canned salsas and sauces. So far, no good.

Did a little frugal reuse last night and finished two orphan cans of frosting (one chocolate, one vanilla) by spreading it on graham crackers and dipping the edges in sprinkles (assorted leftover Halloween, Christmas and birthday nonpariels). You’d think I brought home a pirate’s treasure chest, Black Beauty and the goose that laid the golden egg — that’s how excited the kids were for leftover frosting on graham crackers. Hint: If you call it “a special dessert,” they will eat it. No questions asked.

I’ve noticed that the garden is creating its own environment — attracting creatures who normally don’t visit. The tall sunflowers are so large that small birds perch on the leaves long enough to scratch and preen.

And this is who I saw the other day — another first-time visitor. A female hooded oriole. That’s two different orioles within 2 weeks — where before, there were none. She was hopping around the tops of the sunflowers with her delicate curved beak and soft yellow feathers. Nothing flashy about her. Just very busy eating bugs. I like that in a garden visitor — eat the bugs, leave the plants, thanks.

Today is my shopping-errands-foraging day. A visit to the bread-sharing site, the farmers’ market, pick up the Boy after baseball camp, fetch his bike from across town, and then I’ll spend a little time at the Frank Bette Center for the Arts, where I recently joined the board of directors. But in the kitchen as we speak, however, there are 10 pounds of gleaned windfall apples (little goldens), and these desperately want to be made into dried apples and apple pie. So I’m off to the market, and later, back to the kitchen sink. Sounds a-peeling, doesn’t it?

Oh, stop. You love my puns.