Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was born and raised in Spartanburg, S.C. to a resilient Renaissance woman and a long-haul trucker who would talk to everyone who crossed his path about civil rights. I spent my summer days barefoot in vegetable and flower gardens and spent the winters wishing for snow. I snuck under my high school guidance counselor’s radar, the counselor who told me I wasn’t smart enough for college, and found myself graduating from Clemson University with a master’s. My daddy gave me a piece of advice that I still carry with me today—don’t you ever feel sorry for a man who owns his own airplane. I believe in Hunter’s livermush and fried chicken livers. I live in Anderson, S.C. with my husband and almost toothless poodle mix, Patty Mae.
In the Garden
It was that time of year again. That time when the air would flip a switch from a humid soup during the day to a brisk chill overnight. But that was mountain air for you. It was that time when I would roam the garden in the backyard. I would start in the canning room, which had been added on by my Paw at some point in the sixties. Everyone praised him for building that special room for my Maw. I thought it was founded in selfishness. The man liked to eat.
In the summer of 1985, I was eight years old, and I thought it was the most exciting thing in my small world to go visit my grandparents for the weekend. After a restless night’s sleep on the Naugahyde sofa—tossing and turning and sweating and sticking to it—I would start to stir at the noise of my Paw opening the door to the canning room. I’d slip off of the sofa and already feel the hint of the overnight chill leaving the room and the heat of the day closing in around me. No air conditioning in this house. After pulling on my prized Edwin P. Todd Elementary School tiger shirt and jamming my feet into my once white Keds, I would hurry to the back of the house towards the canning room.
Most of the time, my Paw would have already slipped out the back door of the canning room to his garden. And this is where the magic would start for me. Careful not to let the screen door slam and alert him to my presence, I would ease myself down the concrete steps and hurry towards the rows of corn. My hiding spot. By this time, I could catch him slowly walking the rows and rows of his bounty—tomatoes, beans, cantaloupe—and a few special rows of carrots just for me to pull before they were even ready. I can still hear his voice say, “Baby. Don’t you pull those carrots before they’re done cooking in the ground.” And he would shake his head with the thick silver waves falling forward to rest on his Buddy Holly glasses. But I could hear his smile when he said it to me. It tickled him that I couldn’t contain my excitement.
As I walk the rows now, you can see the signs of crow’s feet starting on my face. My Paw is a memory in this garden. This is where he lives and creates still. Because you see the cantaloupe are from the seeds he so carefully cultivated all those years ago. The tomato, still green on the vine for now, is the special blend he played with in his greenhouse. Now it satisfies me on a summer sandwich coated in Duke’s mayonnaise. I’ll pick the beans when they’re ready and prep them on the very porch he built for my Maw. Then they will be cooked down with a slab of fat back just as intended. And, of course, I’ll pick the carrots before they are ready.