Saturday, February 24, 2007

Cary and Isaac through Time and Space

My Granny grew up on a dairy farm in a very rural part of southern Virginia, so rural that even now you have to drive twenty miles to buy a can of coca-cola.

When I was growing up my Granny's brothers ran the farm and my cousin Cary grew up there.

My brother and I worshiped Cary. He was our hero.

When my brother and I would visit the farm Cary would fill our days with country adventures.

From an impossibly early age Cary drove us through corn fields on his dirt bike (we always got in trouble for that) and led us through ankle deep cow manure to see newborn calves.

Following his lead we climbed the cherry tree in my great grandmother's yard and ate cherries until we were sick; scrambled up onto the feed tractor and flung corn cobs into the pig pen; searched the barn until we found the place the mama cat delivered her litter of kittens and chased the horses to mount them bareback.

Cary taught us to pull the stamen out of a honeysuckle flower and lick the sweet nectar.

He made fun of our city ways and initiated a lifelong pattern where we played city mice to his country mouse.

Isaac was the hired hand on the farm.

I don't know when he started working there but my earliest memories of the farm include him.

He had (and still has) the biggest smile I've ever seen.

Cary was often in Isaac's care while his father, Cary Sr. (my great uncle) was off doing farm chores.

Cary will tell you that Isaac "practically raised him." When my brother and I visited the farm, Isaac often watched us too. Isaac took us fishing in Uncle Cary's beat up, powder blue pick up truck and invented elaborate ways to entertain us.

He took really good care of us… and especially good care of Cary.

Cary will tell you that he loves Isaac like family to this day.

But in the early 1970's when I was a young girl, Isaac wasn't allowed in Cary's house.

He'd arrive at the door with us and stop there.

If a meal was prepared for him, it was handed out for him to eat outside.

I don't remember being told that it was because Isaac is black, but that was the reason.

I remember finding it confusing. I didn't understand.

I grew up in Columbia, Maryland which was an early "planned" community. There were children of all faiths and races in my elementary school, my campfire girl troop and in my neighborhood.

They were allowed in my house. I didn't understand why things were different at the farm.

Eventually, Isaac left to work elsewhere, marry and raise two children of his own.

Economic realities of the 1990's left my uncles no real option other than to sell most of the farm.

I was saddened by that.

The farm had been in our family for generations and though I never lived there I am rooted to the place. When I go to visit unannounced, my cousins and uncles say things like, "I didn't know you were coming home."


I went to the farm a few weeks ago for my grandfather's funeral. The evening after the burial, Isaac came to my Granny's house to offer his condolences. My granny gave him a long hug and he hugged her back. She invited him to the table and asked him to join us for our meal.

He agreed and approached the table.

He stood for a long while examining the overwhelming number of dishes brought by neighbors and relatives. My grandmother asked Cary's wife to fix Isaac a plate, which she did, and Isaac sat down to eat. As is usual with Isaac, he didn't say much.

But good ol' Cary is always willing to fill any conversational gaps.

In some ways Cary will always be the barefoot, country hero of my youth even though I would characterize him now as a staunch conservative and myself as the exact opposite.

Over the years Cary and I have argued fervently about our differing political viewpoints, though we have never let our differences separate us.

It wasn't until I was in my early thirties that I realized Cary was often baiting me for his own entertainment. So, true to form, Cary looked up and asked me what I thought of the slate of Presidential candidates.

"I'm excited about Barack Obama," I told him.

Cary dropped his fork and rolled his eyes.

"Yeah," I said. "I think I'm going to give up my consulting practice and go work on his campaign. Go Barack, Go!!!!"

Cary stared at me. A slow smile spread across his face.

"You know," he said, "I swore I'd never vote for a woman or a black, but I'd give that all up for Condoleezza Rice. Now she would make a GREAT president."

And so we danced the old dance.

I could see Isaac grinning while listening to our exchange but he never said a word.

I wondered what he thought but knew he wouldn't say.

Special thanks to Little Monkies and Chicken and Cheese.

Just Post Feb

Childhood Memory entry in Scribbit's March Write Away


Long Island Dad said...

That was great J -- Thanks for the memories! Everything changes... given enough time! Maybe even having a black American President. Thanks for a great story...

Patience said...

Our childhood molds us. Those seemingly insignificant things define us. You didn't know Isaac was black because to you he wasn't black, he was simply Isaac, friend and protector!

Very wonderful tribute!

nutty mummy said...

you know - I was totally captivated by your writing then. I was reading a novel. And I'm sad it's over.

I would have bought that book.

good for you..

jo! said...

You had more adventures than the bobsy twins! this was a truly wonderful entry; thank you for writing it.

Anonymous said...

That was wonderful. And so beautifully written.

Tears. I tell ya.

A.J.Reams said...

Such a wonderful story. Like the nuty mummy said, I'm sad it's over! Well written!

Veronica Mitchell said...

You capture the complexities of relationships very well. Vivid story.

Rachel said...

Great story, very moving and beautifully written. My parents always taught us that racism was wrong, but racism was all around us, so much so that we weren't even conscious of it sometimes. It's especially hard when the racist person is a beloved relative. Aargh.

Go Obama!

Plain Jane Mom said...

Wonderful post, Jessica. And you don't always have to be funny. I like all the different kinds of posts you write.

Tabba said...

I loved this post for many, many reasons.

I have a similar (and yet different experience) with a family farm. I got all warm and gushy inside reading your account of that farm being Home.

Dawn said...

Beautiful post; wonderfully written. Your childhood innocence really shines through. Thanks for sharing.

ewe are here said...

Fascinating childhood story. And I like how you tie it to the present.

Pendullum said...

On a cold winter day in Canada it is so wonderful to bask in the heat of southern Virginia with you where i could taste the honey suckles, and ride bareback with my dear friend Jessica as she had quibbles with her dear dear Cary. And if that memory was not warm enough there is Isaac's grande smile..
Thank you so very much for warming the cockles of my heart and taking me with you!

Alastair said...

Evocative, provocative, funny and thoughtful - enough about me, the post was pretty good too...

Nahhh, I meant it all, thanks for sharing!

Adventures in Baby Fat said...

Beautful! Wow! Isn't it amazing to look back at childhood with the not-so-innocent eyes of adulthood and see what we didn't see? Really beautiful. It brought tears.

We had a "farm" as well. We were Navy Brats so we traveled A LOT. My mom's best friend still lived in my mom's teeny hometown, miles away from anything. We went there on vacations every chance we got. We weren't even blood relation but it was home.

Thank you for writing this.

Jackie said...

I have chills! Thank you for sharing your story. Beautifully written!

Mrs. Chicken said...

So beautiful ... I told you before and I say it again. I see you and the farm and Cary and Issac all in my minds eye.


whymommy said...

What a great story. Thanks.

flutter said...

That was lovely. I love coming here.

BethGo said...

I nominated you for a Thinking Blogger Award because I think your blog is neato.

Gina said...

What a great flashback! Awesome stories to always remember. I love Isaac just reading about him. Wonderful post!

I would have bought this book too! ;)

The Sour Kraut said...

This was a wonderful post. I loved it.

I will join you in the campaign for Obama.

Alpha DogMa said...

That was lovely. You are a really great writer.
I'm sure those early farm experiences factored into your Half-Pint-wannabe fashion sense.

Groovy Lady said...

Very nice story J. I think it is one that many of us can relate to on a personal level. Very well written, but then all your posts are.

Thanks for sharing it with us. :)

Moobs said...

I hope you can bear a little praise. That was a truly fantastic blog post.

I'm going to leave it at that because if I enumerated the things I liked about it I'd be here all day.

Mama's Moon said...

I don't know why but I got all teary-eyed reading this story. Thank you for introducing Isaac. He sounds like a wonderful man. And I share your excitement over Mr. Obama. I can't wait to vote!!!

Paige said...

Great story, OTJ.

1. I, too, used to live in Columbia, MD.

2. You are the second person this week whom I've heard say they were about to go work on Obama's campaign.

Bob said...

I've blogged before about the times I lived on my Papa's farm. I too am rooted there. There was a black woman - Sallie Mae - who started out doing household chores for Papa & Mama. She "graduated" to helping Papa at his store. She and I spent a lot of time talking. I learned a lot from her. I've often wondered what happened to her.

I lived in Glen Burnie and on base at Fort Meade when I worked at NSA. I've been to Columbia several times for this and that.

canape said...

It's not just the farm, J. I know the farm, because they were the ones that drowned the kittens they didn't need, but I know Issac from the housekeepers we had. In the freakin' 80's.

The deep south is a shocking place.

Queen of the Mayhem said...

I really enjoyed reading this post! don't have to be funny ALL the time. Other times you are thoughtful, insightful, and endearing!

But, Barack OBama? Sister, please!


KC said...

Great post.

Really well told.

BamaGirl said...

I'm new, and I love your blog! You are a talented writer. I can relate to this story. I must say, I wish Condi was running too!

Anonymous said...

A lovely story and a loving tribute to Isaac. Your family sounds like one I'd love to meet.

urban-urchin said...

Beautifully written J. What a wonderful story.

cinnamon gurl said...

Great post! I love how you took us so seemlessly from childhood moments to now. Brilliant.

Mamma said...

1. You don't always have to be funny, especially with writing like this.

2. Indeed, Go Barak Go!!

3. You ROCK! But you already know that don't you.

QT said...

What a great post! I love your memories of the farm and of Issac. Funny how things change....

Flawed & Disorderly said...

Wow, even during OUR life time things like that happened?

My birthday parties in elementary school looked like a rainbow assortment of cultures, but the older I got, the more kids separated into groups who were more like their own cultural back ground. Kind of sad. I still had a few friends who were black or Hispanic, but for the most part we drifted into our separate groupings. I guess that's part of the loss of innocence of childhood.

Terri said...

I second what the Queen said.. :-)

You're a great writer!!

but.... uh......

BARACK OBAMA... his voting record scares me.

Nancy said...

What an awesome story. Isn't it interesting to be able to go back home and realize that while many things change, some remain the same? (And to see our childhood heroes and heroines from the adult perspective is always fascinating.)

Kevin Charnas said...

HHuummm...I wonder...

Mad Hatter said...

Wow. I try not to blog on the weekends and then I go and miss things like this. I'm glad I dove a bit deeper to find it. Lovely, OTJ.

Robin said...

Wonderful. Thank you for sharing it.

strauss said...

Your sotry brought back a tonne of memories for me. I grew up on a farm, and both sets of grandparents had farms. It was a great life for a child. My own children and I live in teh city now and there is a sense of regret that my children will not be filled will childhood memories like those you have described. There is a real sense of discovery and freedom about farm life and the childs memory of it.
Thanks for sharing and congratulations on your second place winning over at Scribbits.

Lisa Milton said...

Found your blog through Scribbit (congrats, by the way) - beautiful post.

Fiddledeedee (It Coulda' Been Worse) said...

I so enjoyed this story! Beautifully written.