Y’all only twice in my life have I been hauled so deeply into the backwoods of the South that I expected to be accosted by Klan members and my carcass hidden so deeply that only moonshiners could find me.
Both of them have been at the behest of a man with eyes so brown they were almost black–first, the recalcitrant brother, who did take me to the infamous Thanksgiving with the Klan*, and then, last night, Mack.
Let me just take a second to say that we went over to some friends’ of Mack’s and they were awesome and funny and charming and nice and I got to meet Mack’s wife who is just, damn, yeah, she’s the kind of woman you want by your side in a knife fight or in a hospital or on the couch.
And I was so tickled and touched that they all would go out of their way to make me feel so welcome and at home. So, yeah, thanks for that.
And now, the infamous Thanksgiving with the Klan story that is, apparently, not as infamous as I thought, because I’ve never told you. Isn’t that funny? Three years I’ve been talking to you and I just now am telling you about this.
Okay, so I took a year off between college and grad school and moved back in with my parents and brothers. The recalcitrant brother was at a time in his life where he just had to flash his big brown eyes at a woman and let a little of his dimple show and next thing you know, the recalcitrant brother is banging her in the back seat of my parents’ minivan while the Butcher drives them around trying to achieve an altered enough state that he’s unaware of what’s going on.
From that union or one similar to it, my oldest nephew was conceived.
His mother was a senior in high school, a bad-ass bitch who scared the shit out of every man in my family, but who I loved (and yes, stayed out of the way of). From her, I learned the art of saying “Whatever” whenever annoyed.
For us, this seemed like a disaster because people in our family don’t run around knocking other people they barely know up and ruining their lives by not letting them finish high school without being pregnant.
From her perspective, though, it was different. She was the first person in her family to graduate from high school and she was the first person in her mother’s line to make it to seventeen without having a kid.
So, just a matter of difference in perspective, I guess. And it means that my nephew has a mom, a grandma, a granny, and a gran-gran who are all alive. In fact, Gran-gran, my nephew’s great-great grandmother is, I believe, younger than my grandmother.
Anyway, my nephew’s mom decided that she wanted to come back down south to be with her granny (who had raised her) to have the baby. The recalcitrant brother, having nothing else going on in his life, decided to follow.
Meanwhile, I moved to North Carolina.
And so, decided that, for Thanksgiving, I would head on over to Granny’s house for the holiday.
In order to get there, I had to get off the interstate then get off a state road and then get off a paved road and then get off a gravel road and then, once on a dirt road, look for a trailer in the middle of nowhere, I swear to god, so far back in the rural South that I could see 1924 from their driveway.
So, at first, all seemed well. We talked, or attempted to. There was a lot of patient repetition as they attempted to understand my accent and I attempted to understand theirs. I played with my baby nephew and had some nice conversations with the recalcitrant brother.
And then, maybe about an hour before Thanksgiving dinner, one of the women in the family asks if I sew, I say a little, and she starts talking about how she’s just finished up some elaborate embroidery she’s really proud of and how she’s been sewing robes for everybody for the longest time and did I want to see what she’d been working on?
I should have known by the way the recalcitrant brother turned ashy pale that this was about to go some place unprecedented in the history of my life, but I said, sure. And she went into another room, and pulled out The Robe, the one you cannot imagine is hanging in the closet of the house where your brother lives.
But there it is.
And they all start complaining about how, since Stone Mountain has a black mayor now (I mean at the time, he’s no longer mayor), he won’t let them have their annual rally and just when were they going to get to see the so-and-so family from South Carolina or the whomevers from Tennessee?
Now, good liberal do-gooders, I, myself, have been raised to believe that, when faced with something as wrong as Klan membership, one must make a stand against it. And yet, I have to tell you, I failed. I couldn’t find my way back to the interstate and I couldn’t talk my brother into taking the baby and leaving with me and so I tried the “but wow, you seem to enjoy a lot of sports with black people in it, and aren’t we watching and laughing at an Eddie Murphy movie (clearly, this was back when Eddie Murphy still made funny movies). Doesn’t that seem inconsistent with your beliefs?”
“Oh, no, we don’t care if black people live in Hollywood or Atlanta. We just don’t want them here.”
“Except for Joe.”
“Well, yeah, but Joe’s our friend.”
“Does Joe know you’re in the Klan?”
“Well, it ain’t a secret.”
And, we could have gone on in this vein except that it was at that moment that my nephew’s grandfather, this enormous monster of a man, leans over to me and says, “You know what’s worse than a nigger?”
“An uppity Yankee. Really, the best Yankee is a dead Yankee.” as he motions across the room at my brother.
And then, for reasons I’m still not clear on, my nephew’s uncle made some comment to my nephew’s grandfather (his dad) which seemed innocuous to me, but was enough to send his dad chasing out of the house after him where he grabbed a two by four out of the truck and waved it after his son threatening to beat him with it if he caught him.
My, yes, look at the time. I do have to be getting back to North Carolina.
I tell you what, America, I have never cried so hard as I cried when I was driving through Atlanta that afternoon sure I was leaving my brother to the worst possible fate he could have embarked on.
I had half-convinced myself that they had put this together for my benefit, as a way to have a little fun at my liberal Yankee expense, until last year when the oldest nephew told my dad that he didn’t want to ever have black friends because black people are gross.
Ugh. Yeah. It’s a funny story that can still make me cry. This, too, is my America. Our America. I mean, this is a story about my family. This is a story about America.