Southern Legitimacy Statement:I believe that in a previous life I was from the Deep South. Not just south of the Mason-Dixon line, but as far south as you can go before wading into the Gulf. The voices in my head have accents, soft and slow. I’m comfortable in heat and humidity with lazy fans turning on the ceiling of large, covered porches. I’ve been known to buy high-backed wicker chairs just for their feel, and drink cooling sweet tea while reading. I may have been sentenced to living in the fast-paced, concrete-and-steel cities of the North, but my heart has always been in the South, where I’m sure I’m truly from.
Wild Geraniums for Nana Harriet
I’ve returned to Florida to look for a piece of myself, a piece I lost twenty-some years ago, a piece I just recently realized was missing. I’ve come because of Nana Harriet.
Her abandoned single-wide swelters in the sun, tucked partway beneath the lone tree. It leans to one side, roof drooping in the center as if it has finally given up; as if when she died, so did this home of my youth.
Dry weeds scratch my legs as I walk. I test the front porch, avoiding the decay. The door groans as I force it across uneven boards. I brush away a spider web and duck inside.
Dark, peeling paneling soaks up the light. I stop as the stench of mildew and rot assails me. I don’t want to move on, but I must. This isn’t the home I remember, the one with crocheted throws on the sofa and sweet tea served in the afternoon. This isn’t where I ran after school to share my day with a listener who hung on my every word and answered with “And then what happened?”
I step into the kitchen, the floor spongy under my feet. All that holds the ancient mobile home together is the matted, green shag carpet, damp from afternoon thunderstorms that poured through ragged holes in the ceiling. The refrigerator gapes. Black mold creeps down its door forming a dark mound on the linoleum. Insects buzz nearby but nothing ruffles the leaves in the tree outside the window.
I buried Nana Harriet many years ago in the country churchyard down the road, then left for a job up North. Last week I thought of her; of her struggle to raise me and her fierce determination to make me a good person. I tried to remember her face but couldn’t. It had blurred with time.
I go into the room that once was mine. It is as sadly desolate as the rest of the house. I kneel near where my bed used to be and pry up a rotting board. A spider scurries from the hole.
I withdraw a small tin box. Inside are the treasures of my childhood – a white rock and a colored marble, a butterfly that has turned to dust, a small stack of faded photographs.
I shuffle through them until I find what I am looking for: A black-and-white moment captured forever. I am the child posed next to Nana Harriet on the front porch of this home. She is shorter than I remember, a little plumper, too, but she stands solid, straight and proud, her arm around my shoulders.
Outside the sunlight blinds me. I clutch the tin box close and gather wild geraniums, descendants of those she tended so very long ago.
At the country churchyard I tie them with a white ribbon and place them tenderly on her grave. “I came back, Nana,” I say aloud. “I came back.”
Then I turn and leave forever.