I wrote this narrative in the spring of 2008: before kids, before death. There is a maker in my life, like the birth and death of Christ. There’s my life after his death, and then everything before it is a blur, a distant memory. Yesterday, my husband and I took our girls to see the new Beauty and the Beast movie. It was heartbreaking. This was the first movie we took my little sister to see in 1992. I recall holding her in my arms, because she was just a toddler, and she fell asleep. She was with us yesterday. She is almost 27. This is probably the last movie my dad took my mom to see before they divorced. I don’t even know what movie he saw last. There’s so much I don’t know about this, and now that he’s gone, I never will. His birthday was Friday. Another year my girls celebrate a man they never knew. Macy was just 5 months old when he passed. Time marches on, and we are creating A host of wonderful memories, my heart holds on to The past. How can it not.
Tomorrow is the first day of spring, and I’m reminded of warmer days, more fond memories. This is what I want to remember.
The Only Sand I Know
By Myra Mills
About a year ago, my husband and I decided to uproot and move from Hope Mills to Clayton to follow our careers for better job opportunities in the Raleigh area. At first, it didn’t seem like that big of a leap, because I could still drive to my mom’s in about an hour. Johnston County is only two counties away from Cumberland County, but the two-county difference hit me the other day when I decided to plant a forsythia bush in my front yard.
I lived in Cumberland County for much of my life, but I was born in Lumberton and grew up in Saddletree. Even after I moved to Fayetteville with my parents, I spent my summers waste deep in rows of green, right up until my second year of college. That year, my grandparents retired as tobacco farmers. My mother was still in college when I was born, and not yet trusting enough to leave me with my dad when she went back to summer school at Carolina, I was put into the arms of my maternal grandparents, Cecil and Dinky. Many of the pictures of me when I was little are with her or at her house. She let me run around barefoot in hardly any clothes, and she used to say that my skin would turn brown like a pumpkin from being outside all the time. I think I was in junior high before I figured out that my grandmother’s real name is Josephine, when I overheard my Great Aunt Adelaide call her Jo. My grandmother is named after her maternal grandmother, Josephine Lowery, the daughter of Henry Berry’s oldest brother Patrick. I had no idea who my Aunt Adelaide was talking about when she mentioned the name Jo, and I don’t remember who broke the news to me that my grandmother’s real name wasn’t Dink, but I just remember feeling devastated, like my grandma was one person to me, and someone to everyone else. Not many people call her Dink anymore. She prefers to be called Josephine, but I think her nickname is more endearing.
My grandparents’ farm used to run like a well-oiled machine, to me at least. We got up with the stars, and we didn’t call it quits until the barn was loaded and locked and everything was in its place. Even in the scorching heat or the pouring rain, we didn’t stop until we just couldn’t do anymore. My grandpa was in the fields all day driving the harvester, and my grandma used to bring loads of tobacco to us at the barn from the fields to unload into boxes, and for whatever reason, they never put a tarp over it as it traveled from the field to the barn. If you’ve ever driven behind one of these contraptions, you know that leaves fly everywhere, if there’s nothing on top to hold them down. She used to yell at us, “Pick up those five dollar bills,” and all I saw on the ground was a bunch of tattered and torn tobacco leaves scattered about. It just didn’t make sense to me to pick up the ugly leaves and put them in the box, too, but I now know that every pound counted when they went to sell at the market. It didn’t matter what it looked like when we were “puttin’ in”, as long as it was golden brown when it came out.
I didn’t realize how much I loved to grow things, until it was my own freshman year at Carolina, and I was on the 9th floor of that concrete jungle, Hinton James. I nursed a spearmint plant and chrysanthemum through the winter on my window sill in a make-shift green house. I shoved pencils down in the pots and made an enclosure with plastic wrap. Quite innovative, I thought. But those plants were the start of a love affair that will never end. I have spring fever right now. After fighting traffic on the beltline out of Raleigh everyday to get back to my little house in the big woods, my hands loosen around the steering wheel as I pass American redbuds in bloom, and dogwoods on the brink. I love this time of year. It is a reminder of God’s glory and His presence. Each spring, everything is renewed, including my passion for gardening. I’m turning into my mother, because she too, has a green thumb.
I attribute my work ethic to how I grew up, and I take pride in my family history as farmers. I believe it’s something to treasure. Working hard is how I grew up, and it’s how I work still today. I spend my work days in a cubicle on a computer, and when I can, I love to get dirty and put my hands in the earth to grow something. Just the other day, my husband and I were cutting down trees in our front yard to make room for flower beds, and we decided to go to the grocery store, filthy, covered in oil and saw dust. It made me smile to see people look at us strangely and tighten up on their pocketbooks.
I never thought that I would miss the tobacco fields, though. Topping and suckering just wasn’t my cup of tea. But even after my grandparents retired, I transferred to UNC Pembroke to finish out college, and my eyes would drink up the land on my commute from Hope Mills to Robeson County. As much as I was glad that I didn’t have to work out there anymore, as I would pass a crew lining up to walk those miles of rows that never seemed to end early in the morning, I would miss working with my family, side by side by my cousins and aunts, but most of all, by my beloved grandparents. That era of our lives is over. My grandparents have moved on from golden leaves to the golden years of their lives. They’ve aged, but I believe that hard work has kept them healthy and alive. Over the holidays, the old crib out by the barns burned down. It was a building of kindling, it was so old, and any kind of spark would have easily caused the ancient structure to burn down. It was filled with memories and old stuff that can never be replaced. Its loss was a reminder of our mortality and the cycle of life. All things do come to an end.
I miss the black, sandy soil of Robeson County that is so easy to work and manage. It is the only sand I know, and I believe just about anything will grow there. Where I live now, every time I drop my shovel to make a hole, it lands on a rock lodged in the dirt, or in red, hard clay. It’s impossible, but I will figure out something that will grow and flourish here and make my new place my home.
This is dedicated to my grandparents, Cecil B. and Josephine Locklear. Without you, I would be nothing.