March 8th, 2012


Goin To Carolina In My Mind

There is nothing more soothing to my soul than memories of hot North Carolina summers spent at family reunions. July afternoons spent in the grass with rabbit dogs, red plastic cups filled with sweet tea, and bellies full of fried chicken colored my early childhood with southern bliss. Even now, I harbor fantasies of picking up and moving to a tiny farming town to raise my yet to be born children and three beagles. I will be hard pressed to convince my city dweller fiancé of the beauty of this kind of life, but a girl can dream.

One visit to the home of my dearly departed Great Grandma Briley stands out in my memory. I'm unable to recall the exact day and year, but I remember important aspects in crystal clear detail; the way Great Grandma's hands moved as she crocheted a bright blue afghan, how the sun poured through the dusty windows of her tiny old house and lit up her snowy crown of hair, the lilting sound of her voice as she told stories of times long past. I didn't understand at the time that she didn't know half of us gathered around her in the room due to the hurricane called dementia that had ravaged her brain. All I knew was that the woman who had given me her name told fabulous stories about her childhood spend reading under the porch of her daddy's farm at the turn of the 20th century. It was a time I had only read of in books and was enraptured by her tales.

"I once stole Daddy's chew," she recalled, her eyes meeting mine.

"What's chew?" I asked from my section of pine floor next to her rocking chair.

"It's tobacco that you chew. Nasty stuff if you ask me, but I wanted to be like daddy."

"So what did you do?"

A smiled played at the corners of her delicate mouth. "I crawled under the porch where I loved to sit, and I chewed it. I mean I chewed that entire tin of tobacco. O child, I tell you, I've never been sicker in my life."

We all laughed hardily, including my Meme (Great Grandma's daughter) who had spent most of the day uncharacteristically quiet. She had heard this story a thousand times but she still found it in her heart to let out a chuckle.

It is a simple memory, but one I cherish. It was the last time I saw that institution of a lady alive. Since then, I've heard so many stories about who Great Grandma Briley was. But, somehow, in the midst of the 98 years she was on this earth, we all make our way back to the telling of this simple story. Not only is the image of a four year old girl chomping on chew amusing, but there was something in the way she spoke about her childhood that pulled us all into her memory. Somewhere in her frayed and torn mind, she still had the will to share with those in her home the gems from her childhood. We were virtually strangers to her at the end of her days, but that didn't matter. What mattered was the sharing of stories, precious memories, so they wouldn't whither away.

Maybe what I really want isn't about raising my family in the deep south. Maybe what I want is the kind of closeness that comes with the sharing of those stories. I want a place to hold my children and grandchildren close and to make sure they know how to remember…even if I one day forget.