No one would be at the train station to greet me. I had not told anyone I was coming. Everyone knew how to reach me, but I had been extremely clear that I had no desire to talk to any of them. If I loved and acknowledged these ‘people’ – my family – then I had to accept that this place was somehow part of me. That was more than I could bear.
I had been so precise in all my planning but I had overlooked the most important concern. Transportation after leaving the train. I had walked these hollers many times, but not in $200 shoes. Que Sera Sera. I stepped onto the platform and picked up my small bag. One didn’t need a lot of excess clothing when there was no intention of staying for any length of time. Get in and get out. That was my plan.
I could feel the moisture sitting on my face and knew that the black smoke was already invading my pores. It took 10 years to get that black feeling out of me – I had forgotten how quickly it staked its claim. God, I hated this place. I stepped off the platform, bent over, unclasped my shoes and slung them across my shoulder. I was amazed at how comfortable this red clay felt as my feet moved against the ground. I had forgotten how many times I had done this as a child. And I had forgotten how good it felt.
I passed the house where I grew up. Dad passed away several years ago and I had not come home for the funeral. I sent a card but didn’t call. Mom would just have to understand how hard it would be for me to come back here. I remember feeling so right about that decision then – but I had come back now – because Granny was gone. The thought of being a gold digger crossed my mind. Was I here because she left something for me? No, no. That wasn’t it. I ‘had’ to be here now. This was my chance to finally exorcise the spirit that held me to this God forsaken place.
I was shocked when I started up the old rocky drive that led to Granny’s house. In my mind it was in disrepair. The shutters were falling off and half of the floorboards on the front porch were missing. Instead I saw a beautifully maintained house. The clapboards were painted a beautiful pale yellow and the shutters were a deep forest green. The small walkway that led up to the porch was lined with flowers. Portulaca – in all the colors of the rainbow. On either side of the steps leading up to the porch were bleeding heart bushes. I wanted to sit on the steps but I was drawn to the front door. A small engraved plate was now somewhat discolored but you could still make out the letters that said WELCOME. I bent down, lifted up the corner of the braided rug and picked up the key. I held my breath as I put the key into the lock.
“So you DID come?” The voice was familiar yet distant. I turned to see an old woman that I didn’t recognize. A small smile formed on this stranger’s face and suddenly I realized it was my mother. It had been 28 years.
“Mama?” I choked on the word. “Is that you?” I could not believe the years that were etched in the lines of her face. I wanted to cry.
“Let’s sit.” Mama said.
I put my bag down as she walked up the steps and across to the old porch swing. I sat beside her and she put her arm around me as if we had seen each other yesterday.
We talked and cried and even sang the song that Granny sang to me when I was a child. The woman I thought I hated was lost in the body of an old woman. Her hands twisted and stiff. She held my hand and I suddenly felt such sadness for all the years that I had been gone. For the life that I had not shared. And for the price I paid for my freedom. It wasn’t until now that I realized the price was too high.
“She didn’t leave you the house. She was afraid you would feel she was trying to force you to come back here. There’s a small box on the kitchen table. I haven’t touched it. I do not know what is inside.”
Instead of inquiring about the house, I released the hand of this old woman and walked into the house. It was clean and remarkably I could not feel or taste any black dust. It was not like I remembered. As I walked into the kitchen I could see the dotted swiss curtains move in the gentle breeze. On the table was a rather large cardboard box. There was no note, no card, nothing. As I opened the flaps on the box I felt the tears roll down my cheeks. Inside I saw four books – old bookkeeping ledgers. I opened the cover on the first one. Granny had left me her journals.
I could hear the creaking of the old chains that held the porch swing. The wind moved the trees outside the window as I looked at the first paragraph and started to read.
“I wasn’t angry at her because she ran away. I was angry at myself for not doing the same thing many, many years ago.”
Finally, I knew I was free.