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