It was a rainy kind of day, starting with light drizzles, turning pretty nasty, dumping buckets of rain, lighting and thunder and a few spinouts (by other cars). Not what we’re used to in dry California. It was lovely and a little alarming, but afterward, the skies broke open and beautiful sun rays flashed across the clouds as the sun set. What a pretty thing to see. We started out from Jasper, Alabama, and went to Birmingham to pick up my sister from the airport, and then headed east to Atlanta. Stopped to pick up coffee and snax from a gas station (gas $3.26/gallon).
From the back seat of the rental car, I caught a glimpse of a soggy cotton field — many, in fact, but the rain was almost torrential at that point so I got just a quick photo from the car window. I have a deep curiosity to see a cotton field in bloom, as well as a tobacco field, to give me a chance to wonder at the scope of work they entailed, and what my ancestors so hungered for. I like to see things, not to believe them, but to give life to the memory or the idea.
Our intention was to go to the cemetery in upper Atlanta and see our 2x great-grandparents’ grave. But we tried to talk out what memories we had of them and their descendants, stories we had heard from our mothers, and it seems the grandpa, William, though respected in the community, was not well liked at home. Neither was the grandma, Hester. I have a portrait of her, a 40-ish smiling woman, hanging on my wall, a pose taken in the 1900s or 1890s. Someone, perhaps a naughty grandchild? has poked holes in her face where her nostrils are, so she looks like a pig. I can’t imagine this was a sanctioned act, as photo portraits were not cheap and there might have been a spanking involved. I don’t know a thing about Hester, but I wonder what she was like, or how she treated people, why her photo was so defaced. Who gets turned into a pig? Not a saint. Not a beloved grandmother.
My own grandfather Rae Bailey was christened William Raeford, named for his grandfather, and Rae so despised William, an itinerant Baptist preacher who Rae called a “hypocrite,” that he changed his name to Raeford Luther, taking his own father’s name instead. Imagine so despising your namesake that you changed your name?
Between dumping rain and unfamiliar roads, the idea of tromping through a cemetery to visit the graves of two not-so-beloveds helped us decide to skip that visit. Instead, we headed to the hotel for naps, poring over maps and documents for tomorrow’s adventure into the next state, and then a delicious Southern dinner in a Kennesaw tavern. Shrimp and grits? Um, yes ma’am. Also, locally brewed beer in cans, and a grapefruit Ricky (pink gf with vodka and elderflower, so tasty!)
When we arrived at the tavern, awaiting some more cousins to join us, I heard a bird calling, and held up my Merlin app. We heard the beautiful call of a Carolina wren — and a cardinal! I looked and looked…
…And there she was. A Northern cardinal–Red head, more brownish body, and I caught her in a photo. You’ll have to trust me. Today I added seven birds to my life list: Carolina chickadee, golden-crowned kinglet, blue jay (not our Western scrub jay or Stellar’s), tufted titmouse, Eastern phoebe, Carolina wren and Northern cardinal.
By the way, I specifically named this post “Marching through Georgia,” because my Southern great-grandmother Willie-Doris detested the song. She refused to hear it played. She was the founding member of the Daughters of the Confederacy chapter in Portland, OR, and she was very proud of her Southern roots, Southern accent, and her alleged relation to General Robert. E. Lee. Although I remember this great-grandmother, who lived to age 99 (she was Doris Bailey’s mother), and she gives me my long-life genes, I find her white supremacy impossible to excuse. She was the epitome of a charming Southern hostess, wherever she lived — and a perpetrator of some of our family’s worst snobbery and affectations. “My sons will never work with their hands” or “My sons will never wear dirty collars*,” she was known to say. (*back when collars were detachable).
I have a lot of thoughts about this lady, whose china sits in my cabinet, whose genes linger in my cells, and the genes of her forebears, generations of folks who disdained their servants and slaves, and anyone who looked like them. I can’t change what was, but I can expose it, I think, and hope sunlight will purify it, somehow. Anyhow, we did not go visit her parents’ graves today.
And I’m #notsorry.