Do do doo doo doo doo do doot do (Imagine the Opening of Dueling Banjoes)

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.

*Y’all, I have poured through my archives and though I have found a few references to my Thanksgiving with the Klan, I find no post about it.  Could it be that I have really never told you that story?

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?”

“Um…”

“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.

26 thoughts on “Do do doo doo doo doo do doot do (Imagine the Opening of Dueling Banjoes)

  1. Wow. The only thing I can do in immediate response to such an alarming story is to make a joke about why the Butcher had to drive, instead of the nephew’s mother knowing a decent place to park the van and get it on, like a good little high-schooler.

  2. I must say that I would never want to hear or be in the same proximity of my sister Homer and her hubby, Squeegee Monkey, doing the horizontal bop.
    No way.

  3. I am glad you made it out of there alive. I’m glad that we have a country where people can believe whatever they want to believe. And I’m glad we have a country where you can tell the story of what those people believe, how inconsistent it is and how harmful.

    I guess it’s all part of America. I’m way too philosophical for Sunday.

  4. Pingback: Nashville is Talking » Probably Not Commemorating Jackie Robinson Today

  5. That is a great story, Aunt B. It almost goes without saying that I would not want to have been in your shoes. I’ve got a story for you, though it isn’t quite as dramatic.

    My wife has relatives in eastern Kentucky, on the outskirts of Prestonsburg. From all I could gather before my first visit, this is not a region of the country known for hanging welcome signs for migrating black folks. My wife had been to visit these relatives many times over the years, and she established quite a loving relationship with her two aging aunts in the area (they are her father’s sisters, and they live within a mile or so of each other. They are also the reigning matriarchs of my wife’s late father’s family). From the time I began to date my wife, I noticed that she would receive occasional calls from her aunts, and she would be thrilled to call them back.

    I wanted to meet this side of the family. My wife had some misgivings, mind you. She told me how one day one of the aunts was once in a zoo and remarked (in front of several onlookers) how a young chimpanzee looked “just like a nigger baby.”

    I understood my wife’s doubts, but I reminded her that she was happy being married to me in spite of some of the horrible things I’d done at the end of my first marriage (I would tell you about those, but there might be some statute of limitations issues). In other words, I told her, how could you have so much love and affection for people who you think would not be welcoming to me?

    To be fair to my wife, she was only concerned for me. However, her fears were happily unfounded. If her relatives had any issues with the color of my skin, they are still doing a fine job of hiding them. I’ve been to Kentucky twice now, and they’ve embraced both me and our little multiethnic charmer. My wife insists that the same aunt who once compared negroes to primates confided in her that if she were fifty years younger, she’d be likely to have a go at me (I paraphrase liberally there). Sweet lady, she is (you’ve gotta love a rascally old lady with a potty mouth).

    Anyway, my insipid anecdote, plus your story, Aunt B., reminds me of the following words I read somewhere:

    …even though we are all people and deserve to be treated as such, our motivations are complex and fucked up and one should not assume that relating to one part of a person means knowing for sure what motivates them completely and that, somehow, that tension between empathy and unfamiliarity can be an enormous kindness, which is why we should strive towards it.

  6. Shite, girlfriend. I’ve absolutely hated it the one or four times I’ve been around that kind of racism. I’m glad you survived, you Yankee.

  7. Oh, Church Secretary, you brought tears to my eyes. I guess we should not underestimate both the power of love and the power of a woman’s desire for a hot ass man. Those two powers may yet fix this world.

  8. Wait. What? You and Church Secretary have set a goal to have kids with all of us? I have just four questions. Will this be before or after I have my kids with Brittney and Magniloquence (little Marigold Gilbert and B’niloquence Whatever-Mag’s-Last-Name-is? Should I start picking out names now? What do y’all think of Ella or Owen? Milagros or Oskar? And do your wives know about these plans?

  9. You and Church Secretary have set a goal to have kids with all of us?

    I don’t have my girl parts any longer for breeding purposes, but I’d be happy to provide whatever support I could.

  10. I guess we must be. I’m so sorry to have dragged you down. ;-p

    Yes, I’ve been sold on Owen as a name since reading “A Prayer for Owen Meany” about a dozen years ago. It’s my favourite book. All that faith stuff…

    I swear, we are not helping our Case For Differentiation.

  11. I figure we have to keep working on it or it’ll be constant refrains of “no, that was the OTHER thinky-talky Gemini brunette Midwestern writer girl with the weird religion.”

  12. Huh. Prayer for Owen Meany is (probably, for most purposes) my favorite book too. But I’m a Saggitarius.

  13. Yay! More Owen Meany love. I swear, that is the best book. Saggitarius…I know not one thing about that sign. I should look it up.

    Ginger, it’s sad but true. What’s even sadder is that our birthdays are one day apart. Freeeeky. Poor Aunt B. She even gets my hate mail.

  14. 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.

    *snerk* You have some of the most gorgeous turns of phrase.

    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?

    This, I think, is pretty important. Boundary maintenance, even violent boundary maintenance, is often important just for the bonding. It reinforces in- and out-group categories and gives you a chance to catch up with old friends and make new alliances. It’s one reason such groups have such longevity; their group affiliation is pretty much their whole social context. Especially given the self-isolating nature of these types of organizations … when else are you going to meet people? Let alone people who don’t automatically want to throw rocks at you or tell you that you’re an embarrassment to the country or challenge the beliefs you were raised with from infancy.

    Erm, I’ll be in that neck of the woods for the summer. You’re making me nervous. :)

    Seriously, Helen. My family is from backwoods Alabama. My great grandmother’s house was so far back in the woods there wasn’t even a road to the place most of the time. Now, of course, things have grown up around there and it’s prime land for developers moving out of the city… but it’s still pretty wild.

    Of course, my family on that side’s as black as they come. That same great-grandmother was a schoolteacher and worked her farm in the middle of the woods all her life. I remember going down there for family reunions and getting eggs from the henhouse and staring all wide-eyed at my great-grand-aunt’s cows.
    And I remember my mother’s stories about how our hair turns red in the front because of great uncle Jasper, who looked Irish and had red hair… because once you go up that far in our family tree you hit the wall of slavery and suddenly there’s these white-lookin’ people popping up.

    Heh, I remember having something gravied for breakfast over my grits, and asking what it was and being told “squirrel.” Tasted like chicken, just with a lot more tiny bones. I had family that could go out and shoot us some breakfast if they felt like it.

    It goes right back up to Aunt B’s time traveling comment. Even though my family’s pretty modern, and inside the house had television and electricity and even air conditioning, it was still like wandering back through the years. Especially when my mom could talk about spending summers with her grandmother, and them watching their neighbors use the well to draw up bathwater and such, because running water was still a rare thing. Or hanging up clothes and being scared by a snake, and going to get her neighbor who took out her shotgun calm-as-can-be and shot the thing’s head off. Or how my great-grandmother plowed with a mule and had to chase squatters off her land with her shotgun, because no law enforcement was going to help.

    It’s like another time completely.

    And, ha! You’d have poor little B’niloquence Brown trying to explain to all her teachers how to spell her name, and then going all “Amber Brown is not a Crayon” on them all the time.

    Hmmm… I think I could spare Mack and CS a baby or two, ‘long as I could get someone else to do the heavy lifting. How are we doing on those uterine replicators? Those would be some seriously radical kids, though. We’d have little Kamikaze Coyote and Radical Brown, kicking ass and taking names (but stopping every now and then to deliver a manifesto or two).

    Oooh, and has anyone claimed Plimco yet? Those eyebrows alone are enough. ;)

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