You are the fairy tale told by your ancestors. ~ Toba Beta
My ancestral journey began with a near death experience when I was four. Three years later a window served as a portal connecting me to my ancestors. This is how it happened.
Tucker Georgia, late 1950s
Through a window I see the world framed in pink polished cotton. A twin Birch stands between my window and Tom’s workshop. I watch him come and go, though no need, his routine known by sound. Beyond the Birch to the right, a little girl with bouncy blonde curls plays in a sandbox. An older girl builds a sandcastle in a red wagon. They play “make believe” as they adorn the castle with flowers, poke salad berries, and acorn tops. They pull the wagon to the Birch in front of my window. They tell me the fairies now have a place to stay overnight. There the castle braves the day until raindrops fall from the sky. I watch the fairy’s home dissolve before my eyes and wonder, how long before the little guys return to their rightful place in the world?
Outside the window to the left, I see tall gladiolas growing near a leaky spigot. The red blooms wither with first cold snap, then faithfully return in summer. Before liberation, I watched them come and go three times from the window framed in pink.
One discouraging day, I buzzed Tom, unloaded soon as he entered my room. Told him I was tired of being an outcast. Tom went silent as he stared out the window. Not sure what he was looking at, the Birch, his workshop, perhaps the woods? The distant roar of the school playground filtered my room. Tears traced his face. He spoke.
“Donnie, we don’t know what God has in store for us – that includes the outcast. Ah like to go to Lincolnton, back to the home of my ancestors, especially when Ah have something worrisome on my mind. My people started out there, a place called Little River . . .”
As he spoke, Tom was in Lincoln County. I followed his words to the banks of Little River. In search of a rock chimney that survived a lake expansion, a chimney that marked where he “got bawn.” He recalled a Leathersville woman who played piano in perfect pitch. Tom spoke of a grandfather never met but knew all about the man’s Tennessee Walker. Tom described the cedars in Lincoln County, how the wind made ‘em hum. He mimicked the sad but sweet song of the whippoorwill and explained how much brighter the stars were in Leathersville than “Atlanna.” He told of a doctor who gathered healing herbs in the woods. What the doctor couldn’t find, he planted – nor above rolling up his sleeves to build a wagon wheel or tan hide. Tom spoke of war and lost gold. The people: pioneers, farmers, soldiers, and slaves – all connected to land near Little River. He explained how the enslaved became freemen and freewomen, how a black man bled red, just like a white man. He spoke endearingly of churches – mostly Salem. He often said with a smile, “You gotta go through Lincolnton to get to Heaven.” Yes, Tom was a quiet man, but not when it came to his ancestral home . . .