Category Archives: My Life

Homecoming — Part 2

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.


Homecoming — Part 3 (Final)

My mother handled the grief by going non-stop and dragging her family along for the ride such that we were so busy that we couldn’t remind her that her mother had just died.  And so the night before the funeral dragged on past 1AM.  In that night I must have met 50 relatives, for most of whom this was the first-time meeting.  Unable to handle a crowd of strangers, as usual, I began to close in on myself.  My shoulders gradually moved up to  my ears and I had trouble breathing as more people introduced themselves and gave me the obligatory we’re-related-hug.  The stranger hugging really annoyed me and pushed me further into myself as if I had hoped to disappear via implosion.  As the night progressed we learned that my little brother and cousin were stuck just outside of Atlanta and going nowhere fast because an injury accident closed the freeway and that my Dad was on his way because his plane had just landed.  My aunt, seeing how distressed I was, implored my Mom several times to take me to the hotel, but my Mom wasn’t hearing her.  Finally, my aunt put her foot down and reminded my Mom that we had a long day ahead of us tomorrow and that she and I needed rest.


Off we finally went back to Spartanburg.  My mom wanted to get my Dad some food as she was sure he hadn’t been fed on the flight and so began a futile search for food in a southern town after 10PM.  Sigh … and to my uncle’s house before we can go the hotel to pick up my little brother and meet my Dad, who had a rental car.  My little brother, Omari, looked tired but in good spirits.  Both of us pressured my Mom to take us to the hotel so we could get some rest.  


Finally, we were going to the hotel.  My Mom got one room for all of us.   I guess she had forgotten that I am a married women and that Omari is well into adulthood, so accordingly Omari and I adjusted our behavior to pre-pubescence to meet her expectations (it’s amazing how parents can make you do that).  Everybody in my family except for me snores very loudly and I didn’t bring earplugs expecting that I would have my own hotel room.  I accepted the situation and prepared not to sleep only to have my parents leave because my Mom had forgotten her luggage at my uncle’s house.  Omari and I got to sleep ASAP, hoping that the short reprieve would allow us to sneak in an hour of good sleep.  My parents are a mischievous pair and made as much noise as possible when they came back and called Omari and me a couple of cranky seniors when we complained about the noise.  (Okay, so we all returned to pre-pubescence that night.)  By this time I was too tired to be aware of the snoring and went back to sleep as soon as my parents had settled.


Continuing on with her non-stop ride, my Mom woke us all up promptly at 7AM (4AM CA times – Ouch).  Omari and I stumbled around half-asleep because we were 3 – 4-hours short of a good night’s sleep.  Once we were dressed it was time to leave.  My Mom was anxious to visit to the funeral home one more time to see her mother and, therefore, neglected our need to break-the-fast, so to speak.  My Dad, now the moderating factor in the family, refused to drive us anywhere until we were adequately fed because it was going to be long day. 


And so the day went:  first stop, my uncle’s house to gather him and my aunt.  My Mom rode with her brother and sister-in-law, leaving my Dad with Omari and me.  Next, onto Jonesville, during which my little brother shared some wild stories from his college life.  Apparently he had a friend on the brink of mental collapse – it was tawdry tale of home wrecking, an innocent fetus, and katanas.  Nothing good could come of this I thought and my Dad explained how his friend was making himself unhappy by disrupting the universe with his actions.  My Mom went the funeral home and my Dad took us to the church, where my grandmother’s body had already been moved.  Outside the church, we met an interesting assortment of people included a classmate of my Mom’s who told us a long tale of his self-inflicted trouble with women. This was yet another tawdry tale of home wrecking and innocent children:  This guy at one point was married with a fiancée, a girlfriend in another state, and another girlfriend who happen to be a sheriff.  Apparently they all found out about each other during Thanksgiving in a wild twist of fate that had the guy eating 3 Thanksgiving dinners, escaping through his out-of-state girlfriend’s window, and running for his life from his Sheriff girlfriend.  He was dressed in purple suit with matching reptile skin boots, looking very much like the lady-killer he was. 

But I digress … And now to my grandmother’s house for a prayer circle and to be loaded into limos to ride back the 2-blocks, very slowly, to the church.


The funeral was very nice and personal.  A group of the grand- and great-grand-children sang 3 hymns and preacher delivered a sermon aimed directly at my Mom and her brother, reminding them that even Jesus cried at the death of Lazarus and that it was okay for them to cry because it is sad to lose someone you love.  The closing of the casket was the hardest part for me because I knew at that moment this was the last time I’d see my grandmoth
er’s form.  It always amazes in death how much smaller people look than when they were alive.  I guess the more boisterous the personality, the bigger people look to me.


After the funeral my Mom continued her non-stop ride and we were off to visit an ailing friend from her childhood and then next to visit my grand-aunt who is bed ridden and, therefore, couldn’t attend her sister’s funeral.  Thank goodness for digital cameras with large viewing screens.  I had taken many pictures of the funeral and the activities that preceded it, so we were able to share the images and describe the events that had taken place to her and her son who was caring for her.  My grand-aunt looked so happy to be able to see the pictures and said, in what little voice she had left, that it was like she was there.  This was truly one of the times I felt the beneficial impact of a digital camera.  After the visit, my Mom allowed us a 30-min rest before we were off again to a bbq at my uncle’s house. 


While at my uncle’s a few people came by to pay their respects.  One woman brought copies of the photos she had taken at the funeral.  She had printed the photos out on plain paper, laminated them, and then bound the photos in a decorated folder with ribbons.  It was nicely done.  There was a humorous photo of my uncle who had made us slightly late to the funeral because he wanted to color his hair to get rid of his the graying temples.   His head was shiny where he had applied the colorant, making it look as though he had white stripes racing down the side of his head creating the illusion that he had more gray than what he had tried to cover.


And so “homecoming” came to an end.  My grandmother had her “homecoming” in accordance with the Baptist faith and my Mom had her homecoming back to the loving embrace of her brother, extended relatives, and childhood friends.  I left feeling very positive about the whole experience despite the weariness, but at the same time I looked forward to comforts of my home in San Diego and to sharing the stories and images collected on this trip with my husband and friends.