When the pandemic began, I was completely opposed to how my family was handling it. I couldn’t hold space for their needs of having to be around others and pretend everything was going to be okay. Presumably safer in my car, I set up camp and read books, wrote ideas for “the future”, and talked through my past as if I was 82 years old. Feeling ashamed about being back home, I felt I deserved mosquito bites, the prickly grass scratching my ankles, and the people who feasted on my negative self image and ever-widening doubts. I was angry and likely unpleasant to be around.
During one of my many random pandemic outings where I’d drive aimlessly around the South Carolina Lowcountry while listening to Marian Anderson sing “I Am Bound for De Kingdom” or Megan Thee Stallion rap “Cash Sh*t”, my grandma Lizzie, who I’ve never met, visited the wandering forest of my heart and mind. I became curious about her life and why she died suddenly at 54. There were new questions and obsessions stirring inside of me:
I went to the house, where I used to live
The grass had grown up and it covered the door
Someone across the street
Said I know whom you seek
But they, they don't live here anymore
They are somewhere around the throne of God
The field beside my grandma Lizzie’s house used to be a broom grass field that used to be a soybean field that used to be a vegetable field that used to be how my paternal grandparents fed my daddy and his ten siblings. There were cows, chickens, and goats.
Caption: Above is a picture of a part of the family land that was stewarded by my Granddaddy Silas and Grandma Lizzie, including fences painted red, white, and green, an open field, trees, and other neighborhood homes
The field behind the house where my ma grew up went through similar transitions and fed a family of ten. Now, there are beautiful weeds and tall pine and oak trees.
When my grandma Thelma would meet people for the first time, she wanted to know where they came from. In her Geechee* dialect, she’d ask, “Who yo people is?” Today, I find myself sitting with this question stirring inside of me more than ever before.
I moved back home to Plantersville, South Carolina in October 2019, after living in the Upstate area of South Carolina for 15 years. When I came back, I met interesting historians, teachers, and healers. These encounters led me to explore where I come from in ways I had never considered. I was encouraged to intentionally honor the spaces made for me by my direct ancestors, including the dead relatives within my family that I knew personally and the ones I’ve heard about in stories or the names I’ve read on birth and death certificates.
It was the first time I began to honor my grandparents’ houses, worksites, foods, favorite smells, songs, and places of leisure. It was the first time I realized how precious it was to have access to these memories and stories as a living history. I approached these spaces (physical and memoried) as if they were museums, holding sacred and important information for my creative existence.
According to Merriam-Webster, a museum is “an institution devoted to the procurement, care, study, and display of objects of lasting interest or value”. Personally, I experience institutions as holders of white-supremacist capitalist cis-hetero patriarchal models of worth, production, and perfection, whether BIPOC-led or white-led. But, because the word continues to visit my consciousness, I continue to sit with it. Museum.
For me, there will never be enough creative work surrounding the Great Migration, the African-Americans who stayed in the South, and the ongoing work of intergenerational and ancestral healing across the African diaspora. It’s exciting to dig into these questions through writing, even if I never know the answers to them:
Want to try a few exercises?
* Note: The Gullah Geechee people are descendants of Africans who were enslaved on the rice, indigo and Sea Island cotton plantations of the lower Atlantic coast. Learn more from https://gullahgeecheecorridor.org/thegullahgeechee/
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