Southern Legitimacy Statement: Once, near the coast of NC, (where I was born and raised) I watched a man wheel the entire carcass of a frozen dead pig into the front door of the Piggly Wiggly. I guess it was frozen because it was skinned and didn’t move or flop over the edges of the grocery cart.
Where We Went
We would arrive in a late afternoon, hot and sweaty in the pre-a.c. car. Once we passed the Piggly Wiggly we knew we were almost there. Then down the long sandy dirt road between tobacco fields, to the small woods, and just before them, the place where the mule died while pulling the plow and the farmer buried him right there, so the story told. We kids competed to be the first to shout “there’s the old dead mule!” but it had to be the exact moment the car passed the spot, and not an instant too soon. Down the hill then to Wee Hame, or “Camp” as we all called it.
Daddy went first into the storage area next to the kitchen, with a hoe, to kill the rattlesnake that had taken up residence there over the winter. There was always a rattlesnake. We ran on down by the pump house and on to the river’s shore, but were not allowed to go in or even wade there because it wasn’t clean. (But the next day we would drive to the ocean, or to the sound, where we could swim.)
The hill down beside the house was steep and there were large old pine trees on either side. Daddy would always make a swing, with thick rope tied to each tree, way up there, and a board with a notch cut in either end for the swing’s seat. I would back up the hill on the swing, then push off and feel myself soar almost out to the river. When it rained, the rope would shrink and sometimes the seat would be too high to get into, but it would stretch out pretty soon.
He’d also build us a new dock each year because hurricanes always took them out. One year he figured out how to put part of it on floating drums so he wouldn’t have to start from scratch. We would rent a skiff with an outboard motor that we’d take out on the river to go fishing.
Next to the dock was a place where gigantic trees had washed up on the shore, three of them, their roots seeming to me like the prow of a great ship I pretended to captain. One year an especially violent hurricane dislodged them from their perfection. I asked my Dad to move them back please? and he just laughed, and then explained that they’d be way too heavy for anyone to move.
We would get fish heads and tie them to strings, and sit on the dock and catch crabs. Pull them up in a net, put them in a bucket. We also caught flounder right off the dock. We could see them lying on the bottom, funny creatures with both eyes on one side, looking up toward the air.
There was an island out there in the river, and the house had a large, wrap-around screened porch on its second storey, that looked out over the river. What we all did after supper was to sit on that porch, watch the moon rise over the island, and sing. All the grownups were fine singers and we all learned how to sing harmonies. I’ve forgotten all but a few of the songs. Daddy would smoke his cigars out there, and there were big cockle shells at intervals along the porch rail that he used as ashtrays.
He, and my uncles, helped my grandfather build the house, over some years, before we were born. When my grandmother died, the family — the “grownups”, though by then we kids were all adults — decided they couldn’t afford the upkeep, and Wee Hame was sold.
We all dreamed about it for years. I dreamed that it became a “school for dreams and the arts” and that my Dad said, “It gives me woe-mouth, what they’ve done to this place.” The only other thing I remember from that dream was a little white dog that walked on air.
I used to believe I could do that, walk on air, if I just would avoid putting the next foot down. I also believed if I wrapped my arms around a big tree, and pulled real hard, I could pull it out of the ground. I tried that one day. Like Daddy said, though, it was too heavy for anyone to move.