- Eating, While Local
I opened my history book one dayIn the eighth gradeAnd it said,This country loved race,And it ate itLike warm bread,And when it finished eating itIt smiled at meAnd drankThat huge glass of milkIt always wanted me to drink,Because it saidIt would give meStrong bones.If it wasn't for the strong bonesI already haveIn that damn story of yours, son,my grandmother ironing said,I wouldn't be here.—Primus St. John, "Ironing"
Main Street out of Greenwood, South Carolina, becomes Highway 25, a two-lane road that travels north to south through our town. Within fifteen minutes of driving, the town disappears and we are in deep country, due south. Deep South. On a road that stretches around the Piedmont hills, the ninety-minute drive encompasses every idiosyncrasy, acknowledges every cliché that has bedecked the recent panorama of Southern memory, both modern and relic: the old farmhouses and antebellum mansions fading into ruins, the unruly spread of kudzu, the old-timers sitting on porches whittling at pieces of wood, gumming themselves into oblivion, the young bucks with gold mouthpieces, driving candy-coated Cadillacs whispering into the ears of surly, sleepy-eyed girls, who rest against the hoods of said cars, leaning their way into YouTube stardom, the wasted sprawl of McMansions, the tattered, Confederate flags, the frayed rope, the purple martin gourds, the Jesus Christ crosses, the barbecue pits, the trailer parks, the outsider art, the historic markers that let you know a war was fought here, a soldier died there, ten governors lived here, and Elvis ate there, the holy rollers proclaiming rapture at crossroads, the once-casinos-now-storefront [End Page 33] churches, the negro lawn jockeys, the ceramic deer, the strip clubs, and the apocalyptic billboards proclaiming you to repent it all.
As a kid, these rides offered a Southern variation on some syndrome I'm sure I had read about in my father's science journal: I aimlessly counted the number of Confederate flags lining the highway and devised ways to steal all the negro lawn jockeys I saw to start a baseball team.
Today I'm driving, along with my brother, Chip. Usually, our father makes this drive with us. He gave his reasons for not coming:
"I've got too much work to do," he said, as we kicked at gravel outside his office. "Besides, we just went to dinner with him last week. He's fine."
He was my grandfather. Although it was a minor incident, my grandfather had gone to the hospital last week. He was released later that morning, but I was intent on going today with or without my father. I thought I was honoring my grandfather by going to see him. In truth, my father was doing the same in his own stubborn way for his father. Both are men who have only known a world of doing and sacrifice for their dreams and for their families, and so my father stayed at his office and told us to drive safely.
It was only until later in the car that I realized this. The men in my family are more like each other than we care to admit. I shivered. Time was collapsing in on me as I was driving my brother down the same highway as my father had done for me and his father had done for him.
Always, when I return home, I am made aware of the passing of time. Always, one more family member or friend has passed. Although I make time to pay my respects to the bereaved and visit the deceased's resting place, I also ask myself something my older relatives ask, "Well, did you give them their flowers while they were still around to smell them?"
The morning we left for Augusta, I called my grandfather to see how he was doing.
"I'm all right," he said. His response did not surprise us, as he has never been someone who complains openly.
"Yes, sir," I said.
"Ain't cause to worry about me," he said.