For a San Diego native like me, South Carolina appears to be super green with trees and moss and grass and vines everywhere. Within that green there is screaming life – mostly insects – and after a while it’s just too much for my senses and I long for the scrubby browness of home. My grandmother’s house is located on small triangle of Earth amidst the super greenness on a little path of the road call “Pump Hollow”. It was called “Pump Hollow” because at the end of the path was the community water pump, where not too long ago, folks used go and pump water for daily use. There are two houses situated on this small sliver of land. One is the old house where my Mom grew-up and where I have misty childhood memories of being warmed by a wood burning stove and being confounded by the fact that this house had maybe 3 bare light bulbs and no running hot water (if you wanted a warm bath you had to boil water on the stove). This was a place this suburban brat did not like to visit. The other house is a small trailer juxtaposed by the presence of giant tube TV with an accompanying giant lazy boy chair in which my grandmother always sat. Every time we visited, the trailer was always filled with the sounds of playing great children and their parents desperate to tell their “rich” California relatives about their hardships, pleading with us to give their children a better life in California. This is yet another place this suburban brat didn’t like to visit. The old house was boarded up long ago and nature is now steadily reclaiming it. On this day the trailer is filled with grandchildren, who are now in their 30’s and 40’s and those same great grandchildren who are now teenagers. The house is filled with laughter as they share stories about grandma and enjoy the food the community has provided for the family during the time of mourning. It was surprisingly uplifting.
Upon arrival, I head back to kitchen to finally get some food. There are the usual southern comforts; fried chicken, biscuits, potato salad, and orange soda to choose from. I loaded my plate with chicken and bread and wince at the soda. I gave up soda years ago and I now I find it almost undrinkably sweet. But there’s no such thing as bottled water here … so … As cousins make their way in they all greet my Mom and then begin to interrogate me – what’s your husband like? (They are very curious about interracial marriage.) What do you do at work? Are you day or night shift? What do you do when you are at home? Do you know any stars? And on and on. I answered as best as I could and they seem disappointed that my life is pretty ordinary and their illusions of my wealth are shattered as they learn they drive better cars than me and see that I have had the same cell phone for the past two years. I explain that we just have different priorities. To which they seriously explain to me that there’s no point in saving when you could die tomorrow – a point I didn’t fully understand at the moment but later came to poignantly understand.
And then the pictures come out. One of the cousins who was poking around the trailer found a large envelop containing a bunch of pictures. Some were very recent, taken just weeks ago, and some were very old, chronicling the lives of my Mom and uncles. Most precious to me were some photographs of my Mom when she was about 10 and another when she was about 12-years old. I had never seen pictures of her in her youth and I was surprised to see that she looked just like did when I was younger. In one of the pictures my mother defiantly glares at the camera, her eyes stronger and fiercer than I’ve ever seen them. My Mom explained to me that she did not want to be photographed that day and so she refused to smile. But I could see underneath that defiant glare a small smile of victory. I guess she thought she had somehow defeated the photographer, but instead she had given him the gift of a “priceless” expression.
I pulled out my digital camera to take a picture of the photo. I had fallen in love with my Mom all over again. I see, I thought, this is the expression of a child who escapes Pump Hollow. I then asked the family could I keep a few pictures, and surprisingly they were unattached and allowed me to take them as long I digitized them and put them on a photo sharing website. To which they added that should remember to properly label the images so they know who’s in them. *Record scratching noise* Double-take! Huh?!!! Whoa, wait a minute! You have computers and the Internet?!!!
And then I woke up and took a look around me and finally noticed that my family was happily snapping photos of each other with digital cameras and cellphones and that one of my cousins had brought over a laptop and was using a cellular phone modem to connect to the Internet. I am a fool … they’ve probably Zillowed my home address.