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The Dreaming Fields

Growing up, we often spent summers in southern Georgia —  Waycross, to be specific.  My mom, Dottie, had grown up there, and it seemed that whenever someone got married or died, we’d return.  That is, until I was old enough to protest, and stay on my own.

During those early years, I felt incredibly connected to my southern relatives.  They had big, friendly hearts and outgoing natures, but it was hard to see the connection between them and my often-rigid mother.  Still, I felt close to them.

Every trip, we would stay at Waycross’ finest, the Holiday Inn, the lobby of which retained the faint hint of cigarette smoke, escaping through the cocktail lounge door.  Aside from the pool, the motel also featured a putting green, where we kids would play for hours.

I always noticed, though, the division that seemed to exist between black and white.  There would be African Americans by the pool, or at the lake where we often had family functions, but it was almost as if I could tell they were eying us cautiously, making sure that neither side stepped over an invisible line into inappropriate behavior.

There was something about the inhabitants of the south which I found intriguing, regardless of color.  Something about their unhurried pace and languid tongue…  The way the humidity didn’t seem to bother them at all, while I, on the other hand, almost felt as if I were suffocating.

My cousins were much more adventurous than me, always up for a game of hide and seek, or an outing,  or — as we got older — spin the bottle.  And I’ll never forget how dumb I was, falling for their Snipe hunt.

In my memories, I think of red dirt forever clinging to my tennis shoes, running through the endless fields, riding the lawnmower, boat trips through the Okefenokee swamp, and my granny’s house, with the never-used living room filled with ceramic figurines.  There was one memorable summer day, spent at my Aunt Patsy’s, where we kids hid in the corn silo and had a spectacular barbeque, with the most magnificent homemade, fresh peach ice cream.

I remember the stately and slightly creepy mansion of Miss Myrtis Beach, just down from the house at 501 Lee, where my mother was born.  The old white Victorian of Carter’s Boardinghouse, with their terrific southern food, bottles of sugar cane syrup on the tables, and swarms of flies.  And the facade of the long-closed pharmacy and soda fountain, which my granny had run, years before women were supposed to run anything.

So much of that era is gone now, replaced by WalMart and the newer shops on the outlying highways.  And I’m sad to see it go.  But today’s world offers us many advances, and connecting with my relatives through Facebook has lead to closer relationships than I ever had before, despite the years and miles.

Still, those days of old echo through my dreams, and I can’t help but feel, as they pass, that a part of me is going with them.

4 Responses

  1. Having lived in Georgia all my life, you captured the essence of what life here was like in the 60’s and 70’s, and to some extent still is today. I enjoyed this post immensely. It made me think of summers spent playing with my own cousins and that deep bond that Southern families still enjoy to this day.

    March 6, 2013 at 1:51 am

  2. Diane

    Kergan –

    Thank you for sharing these memories. Somewhere around the age of 12, on the return from a trip to NC, my grandparents stopped with my cousin Andrea & I in Waycross to visit his Aunt Jackie. Andrea & I spent an afternoon climbing trees and feeding pears to the cows in the orchard. That evening, we had pickled apples, pickled okra, fried chicken and fried green tomatoes. It was that trip that I first visited the family cemetery (which today can be found by GPS) down a red clay road. There, we discovered headstones so old they were made of now petrified wood, the names of the deceased they marked lost forever. There was a fence dividing the field by race, where I can only surmise slaves had taken the family name and passed it on for generations. They continue to bury their kin there.

    I suppose it was just before you were old enough to stay behind that you and first I met in 1980-something – I remember you as the surfer-dude cousin from CA (I have photos somewhere). It was the mid-80’s when my grandfather first brought his huge branch of the family tree to the “place where all the ways cross” to meet the rest of the family. I remember us gathering at Ken & Pat’s for my first taste of fried turkey and how we kids complained about the gnats and the August heat, but not about the food. We knew our mothers – 10 sisters in all – had learned Good Southern Cookin’ from somewhere and finally, we knew the source. On Sunday, we followed directions that included, “turn off the paved road and make a left at the chicken coop” in order to find the Roxie Mae Methodist Church for pot luck and the “family meeting.” On one of those trips, my grandfather took us on a tour, to his mother’s home, and down the route he ran in “short pants” to get the doctor when his brother was born. One year, Wheaton sat me down and told me what a hero my grandfather was in a war none of that generation ever talked about. Of course, as humble as “The Greatest Generation” are, Wheaton never mentioned what a hero he was too.

    I have long known the importance of this origin, our family history, and these annual reunions, which since my grandfather’s passing so many of my generation, and my mother’s, have let slide into the past. These family trips created a connection with this extended family – including you and your lovely mother, “Cousin Dottie” – that I would have otherwise never known if my grandfather hadn’t pushed us all to coat ourselves in “Off” and make the trip. I can only hope they will continue the tradition so that someday, my children will know from where they came.

    BTW – I heard the Holiday Inn was demolished.

    May 19, 2011 at 4:58 pm

  3. Thanks, Becky! I just got the following note on this post, via Facebook:

    We visited Alabama in the summers. As the kids got older and the trips grew fewer, I would go on my own and stay a month at a time.

    I remember getting out of the shower and feeling like I could not get dried off because of the humidity and un-air-conditioned homes. I remember the thunderstorms – sitting on the porch and watching lightning strike what seemed like inches away from us. Church camp meetings. I remember a woman dressed in black who was auburn-haired and beautiful, and she wore (I later figured out) Ciara perfume. Lightning Bugs. Sleeping with my cousin Sherry and my amazement at how she slept right through the train that rumbled through the neighborhood in the wee hours of the black mornings. How my aunts and uncles would drink coffee all day long. Every meal would come with bisquits and tomatoes, sliced and peeled, on the table. Golden Eagle syrup. Probably my favorite memory is from when I was a bit older. My cousin Randy and I took off on his motorcycle and spent the day just cruising along those beautiful, hilly, pine-tree lined back roads. We came home and his mother whipped him and yelled at us both… but we didn’t care. She finally laughed too because nothing she said could take away from that awesome day. 🙂

    Thanks for bringing back some great memories for me. xoxo

    I love the memories this brings back!!!

    May 18, 2011 at 12:05 pm

  4. Rebeccca Reynolds-Johnson

    K: I love this piece! Reminds me of lots of time spent with my Granny King in Virginia. I am your #1 writing fan!

    May 18, 2011 at 10:41 am

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