August 05

Estranged: My Alienation from My Southern Roots

This week I began working on my long-neglected collection of stories about growing up with my maternal Grandma. Life is going quite well for us in general. My daughter is nearing her teen years and beginning her ascent to higher education, success and independence. I have made recent changes that benefit us both financially and started to  draw the outline of what my life will look like when she leaves for college. But even with these positive things taking place a sense of incompleteness has gnawed at me. I know this incompleteness stems from the fact that I am not striving as hard as I should to refine my writing skills and fulfill my dream of being a published. Aware that the only cure for that emptiness is to simply complete the task I opened up the MS word draft I began in 2013.

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In order to describe my Grandma and my time with her I have to detail the environment that she was born into: the early 20th century Mississippi Delta. The words flowed out of me as I recalled the emotions I felt growing up, when I looked at Grandma’s black and white pictures of the first twenty-five years of her life. Three pages into my writing I felt my energy change, and I realized how alienated I am from that aspect of my heritage.

For me Mississippi might as well be another country. I have traveled to other nations, but never the place that holds the blood and memories of the multiple generations of my family. And frankly I have never had a strong desire to go there. Between my mother’s bitter tale of her visit in 1968 and the knowledge that the poverty and separation of the past is still firmly in place, I’m content to not go there. There are certainly elements of the South that I appreciated. I loved the accents of my Grandma and my church elders from Mississippi and Louisiana. I loved their food, and to this day I feel that the cooking of Southern women is both a treat and a blessing. The highlight of my upcoming weekend will be a family dinner prepared by my late Grandma’s Louisianan friends(the only downside is that I can’t have wine as my family is religious). I even came to love my Grandma’s stern Southern ways in child rearing, and have implemented a lighter version of it with my own daughter.

However the elements of Grandma’s heritage I like are not enough for me to cling to the entire package. There’s love and warmth in my roots, but there’s a lot of pain and blood too. The South is an essential part of my late Grandma’s story and always will be, but I have come to understand that it is not mine. My story and my heritage now lie elsewhere: ‘west side of the map,north on the top side’, in the words of local MC Aquino. And just as my Grandma left her birthplace and established our family line in a new locale I look forward to her great-granddaughter leaving Seattle and doing the same.

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