Take Somebody With You

3 Comments

I went again, but this time I took somebody with me.

It was a little odd, going back to the plantation. Willingly returning to the very place from which a whole bunch of slaves probably tried to escape. But I went back. It was me and my sister (again), two first cousins, one second cousin, a third cousin, and my daughter. All women. All descendants of Robbert Lenoir (born abt 1833), a man who worked as a slave on the Lenoir Plantation.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We started planning this excursion in April of 2018. See, what had happened was, my aunt died. My aunt was my mom–that is, after my mom died when I was seven, my aunt, TT, took over and became my mom. She was everybody’s TT, so her leaving this place was rough on us all. And as is the way with funerals and repasts and what-to-do-when-all-the-laughter- and-wine-run-out, we made promises that we knew damn well we weren’t going to keep.

Y’all know the one: Let’s not just get together when somebody dies. We were going to do better. Keep up with each other. Stay in touch. Plan a girls’ trip. Text “at least once a week.” We told a bunch-a-lies, we did. At least most of us did. We ain’t do no betta than we been doing. At least most of us didn’t do betta.

But there were 7 of us. After the GroupMe I set up to keep all the Lenoir Ladies in touch with one another. After I reached out to daddies to get in touch with their daughters so we could all visit the plantation and take pictures in white. After 15 of us were dropping pictures of inspiration for our white outfits we were going to wear, there were only 7 of us, two of whom weren’t even part of the original 15 (cause they were too young to be on the GroupMe to hear us talking sh*t). So really, there were five who actually went through with the commitment. Five grown women.

To break up the text real quick, I’mma drop the video right here. Take this 3-minute break, but keep reading. I got more stuff to say.

I’m not mad about who didn’t make it; I need to say that, cause some of my sister-cousins may read this post and think I’m hi-key, lo-key, big-little mad about the situation. I’m not. So much happened between April of 2018 and June 14, 2019. Folks had children graduating; folks had toddlers to run behind; folks got sick; folks lost jobs; folks moved ‘cross country; folks ain’t have no money. Folks were just being folks, doing what folks do. So, for real, I’m not mad. I’m just happy some of us made it. And the ones that made it, were glad they did.

I’m sure you’re ready for another image. This is a cute one, but don’t get caught up; you gotta finish reading.

I was curious about my tears, the ones that wouldn’t come the first time I visited the place. I thought that once all of our hormones got dumped into the SUV together, there would be salt-water soup. Not fully the case. There was a thickness in the air; it would violate the intimacy of the visit to say who said what. I’m sorry, the tea won’t be served on this post. It’s disrespectful, and little bit too fresh. This is not to say there is no tea. Too soon; too fresh.

But there was this: anger, awe, heaviness, and weight. There were mouths hung open. There were moments when the other five would call either my name or my sister’s name and then say nothing after that. Like this:

DiAnne…

Hope…

There were also snacks. Liz (I don’t know why I insist on calling that lady Liz. She did NOT give me permission to shorten her name) made refreshments and set them out in nice glass dishes with tiers, hunti. Sausage balls, fruit, cinnamon rolls, and orange juice in cute little glasses that I begged her to put up before my daughter broke one by mistake. Had it not been for her trying to feed us, I wouldn’t have known she was there in her own house. She stayed so far out of the way I had to ask her if she was okay.

“Liz? You good?” I walked over to her and looked down at her cute little round face. I put my arm around her. “You good?”

“Oh yeahhh,” she whined out. “I just want y’all to do whatever needs to be done. Whatever you need.” She meant it. And we did. We took pictures all over that house like it was ours. I checked with Liz every now and then, when I could find her. We also had with us my best friend, Kathy, who I brought to keep us organized, on task, fed, and not looking greasy on the forehead. She brought us water and took a lot of behind the scenes footage. She was amazing.

The tears. Yeah… no, I still don’t have any. A couple of the ladies did. They brought up things I had shielded from my mind the first time. Like the fact that the plantation had a lot of trees on it, with sturdy roots, and big, wide, strong branches–stretching limbs. Nope, I chose not to think about if and how many folks swung from those branches. The heat that wasn’t even that hot beamed down and penetrated the pretty white clothes we’d had tailored and specially made from a vendor on ETSY or some other place. It was hot, but some of my cousins’ comments made me rethink the heat, took me back in time. That kind of stuff brought my girls to tears. And it’s understandable. The visit is and will always be a moving experience, I imagine it will be that way no matter how many times I go back. The folks you bring with you bring a fresh perspective, and that deepened my appreciation for the opportunity.

But redemption tho. That thing happened when we took pictures on the staircase, each one of us taking a turn, standing tall at the bottom, not smiling but using our faces to give a big ole “eff you,” to the spirit of those who thought they could kill our lineage by pushing a violated 12-year-old slave girl down those stairs. We live for that girl, cause we are she and she couldn’t live for herself.

There is more, but as the gospel song says, “I just can’t tell it all…” Not now anyway. I’ll let you know when I’m ready. Until then, get to the bottom of your staircase, and when you do, bring somebody with you so they can see what you don’t see.

Categories: What I'm Doing

Going to Meet the Land

5 Comments

Here it is.  My sister and I are going to visit the place where our ancestors likely. . .no, probably, okay—let me be honest with myself.  My sister and I are going to visit the home and land our ancestors worked as slaves.

There, I’ve said it.

I’m curious about what I will feel when I get there.  The prospect of both extremes exhausts me.  If I feel nothing, does that mean I have no connection with my heritage, no sympathy for my people’s plight, no appreciation for the tilled soiled that turned me up and spit me out in a hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana?  If I feel everything, will I be able to hold down the tremors that may roll up and toss my body about?  Can the tears be held back?  I have pictured that hold, like I picture God holding back the waters of the Red Sea, with his big ole holding-black hands.

It all started when our mom died, this need to sink claws into a history and find a place to root.  This happens to all children who have been abandoned, whether by force or choice.  We have this sense of non-belonging that tugs at our hems and keeps us looking back.  We don’t, I don’t, know what we’re looking for, but when we find it, we know.  My sister and I are looking to find it.  We’ve been looking since 2006.

In fits and starts we put the tree down and pick it back up again.  Yes, we can pick up trees.  We are strong like that.  I’ve made a big to-do of things in the wake of this trip.  I’ve forgiven; said things that I’ve wanted to say for decades as a way of mending myself up for the journey.  My sister has done so too, reluctantly and obediently.  But then, just the other day, I got into a disagreement with my sister.  We rarely weary ourselves with such trifles.  We have often tried to “make up” yearly fights.  This disagreement was diplomatic.  Non-demeaning.  Necessary.  It just made sense.  Whatever was down there between us needed to be dug out and examined.  It needed to be procedural and deliberate, in the same way we dug up and dusted off the muddy remnants of our family’s history.

Together and soon, we will take a two-hour drive from Memphis, TN to a small town in Mississippi.  First, at Mississippi State, we will visit the part of the library that houses our stories from the perspective of white oppressors–cause, yes that happened.  Then, we will try to fill in gaps and keep ourselves from imagining that we were the winners in this game America played for so very long, but it will not work.  We will surely mythologize.

Kathy, one of my best friends, has traveled to Africa.  She recalled standing on a shore and feeling as if the ocean was trying to tell her something.  Even though she didn’t fully know the language of the waters, she knew of the story well.  There came with the pregnant tide a trepidation and heaviness that drug Kathy down to tears.  Each time she speaks of that memory, I get chills.  Now, contextually, I wonder about the experience I will swap with her.

But then there is Desiree’s (my other best friend) vision.  One of me stepping onto the grounds and looking about.  One of me not seeing the specters of field hands and cooks, menders and blacksmiths, horse keeps and house maids, leaping up from their places, with heads wrapped, bodies weary, clothes tattered, and spirits bedraggled.  They are applauding, as if they had been waiting for us to get there, like their children coming…home.  She describes the thunderous reunion as one filled with wailing and moaning, signifying the celebration of tragedies and the end of grief surrounding miss-told stories.  She believes the ancestors will be grateful to see us and we will feel an urgency pushing us toward truth, as if all of their fingertips are pressing at our backs at once.

Our truth has missing pieces.  So many missing pieces.  A rape.  A staircase.  Murder and fire.  A massacre.  Fleeing.  Hanging. A few gaps.  Then, there is us.

I’ll be sure to let you know how it all turns out.

Categories: What I'm Doing

Live Rich Die Poor | July 14, 2018

No Comments

Ann Wallace, is an actress, writer, wife, mother, entrepreneur, a phenomenal woman beyond measure, and a truly dear friend of mine.  She is one who pours herself completely into every single thing she does.  I believe this is why she has embarked upon such a wonderful endeavor, a one woman show (written by her) in the personage of Zora Neale Hurston.  She focuses the theme of her show on Hurston’s mantra (which was spoken by her mother), to “Live Rich and Die Poor.”

In an effort to capture the essence of what it means for a woman who “does not weep for the world, because she is too busy sharpening her oyster knife,” she is developing many “one-off” presentations on the theme.  The first offering is a panel discussion moderated by yours truly to unpack what it means to leave nothing on the table and inspire women to live their lives sensually and seductively, where they plow through life with a determination to live without regrets and without “shoulda, woulda, couldas.”  Join me, Ann, and a force of women to talk about what it means to “Live Rich and Die Poor!”

 

Click Here to Purchase Your Ticket

Jamey Hatley, Virginia Reed Murphy, Rosalyn R. Ross, and Dr. Zandria F. Robinson represent a collective of entrepreneurs, writers, artists, academicians, drama therapists, and organizers whose strong wills have paved the way for truth and vulnerability. Join them as they engage in a discussion about sexuality, yearnings, dreams, and fears. In a panel discussion moderated by DiAnne Malone, the women will share how the recognition of bravery through frailty produces a seductive blend which compels them to decidedly, joyfully, and unregretfully empty all of who they are into the world and people around them. Listen. Engage. Set intentions. Commit to living rich and dying poor.

Categories: What I'm Doing