Sunday, November 21, 2010


It was the family name. He took it back. They took it away. He took it back. Fog covered the lowlands.
Ah, the highlands, lass!
My father’s grandmother in the Blue Ridge loved the mountains, How do I know? I knocked on her door. It was always open. Screen door.
God must have blessed her, she made the boys a basket of food and sent them south. She never saw them again. She loved them as long as she lived. She didn’t hold it against Rich, what he did, he did it for Abe, and Ira? she knew he’d never stay, not like Dave, who followed his other brothers everywhere, even here, on the sorghum land outside Woolwine, over the hump from North Carolina, they called it, though it was south of where she lived. She had her girls, they’d do right by her. They’d see to it she died, maybe even happy, here.
Her daughters loved men and married and their children came back to the little house among trees and kissed their grandma hello and goodbye and every time in between she asked them to give grandma another kiss and hug.

He never found her home.
She was too far down the tree, the one the family shivered to its roots, Ulster and beyond, Glasgow before that. On the ship over, Peter and Cynthia planned the new life in the new land. They would work off the indenture and once free, make life as they went along on their own.

It was their way. Little wonder they went where only those like them lived, though they were lucky, how else could you see the future from here?

One child, a son, Charles. He was what they left behind, in addition to the house, the land, the horses the boys rode the day they left. Charles married Matilda. Her name was my father’s paternal grandmother and his mother’s maternal grandmother’s name–Matilda. Or as they say in the South, sometimes, "my father’s father’s mother and mother’s mother’s mother’s name." Maybe they still do, how would I know now, living so far off and in the north, where snow and ice keep the air clean and people live to a hundred and one, some even longer.

Both Matildas were Scots. One married a Scotsman, the other a Cherokee. She too came from there. Wood married McAlexander in Virginia, Satterfield Taylor in Oklahoma. Oklahoma was wild in those days, feds had to bring in Isaac Parker to rule the courts, and he became known as "the hanging judge." The boys went free. They lived around Fort Smith. Rich and Abe worked the mines and Dave played guitar and sang for money, after a while working at what he could find, but not the God forsaken mines. North and a little west, John Taylor lived outside Tahlequah; his daughter Pearl, or Peralee, married the Welshman, Frank Clifft, who gave her my father’s mother before she died trying to bear a son, stillborn.

They dropped the Mc from their name. That’s how they stayed free. That, and how far south they’d come without continuing to Mexico.

In Memphis Ira stole all their money and, unbeknownst to his brothers, lived in New Orleans the rest of his days. And nights. He even wrote his mother a letter some said she never received. Said she lived too far from the city, maybe. How would she know?

The fog burns off. Wait it out.

(22 October–21 November 2010)

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