I have often called honeysuckle, ‘God’s gift to the rural Upstate.’ It grows everywhere, smells glorious, and covers lots of stuff we’d rather not deal with. Rusted-out vehicles and tiny one-room shacks that could easily be 150 years old or more are still found all over the State of South Carolina.
When I was small and staying in McClellanville, just north of Charleston, I was taught how to pinch-loose the base of a honeysuckle blossom and slowly draw the stamen out until tiny drops of nectar gathered on the tip…not enough to please some but plenty sweet enough for a small child playing quietly in the dusty back yard of her grandmamma’s house. I had been taught to pick only the blossoms that were easy to reach without getting too close to the long-grown-over pile of lumber and old car parts. I was told that snakes also liked honeysuckle…and blackberries…and not to reach too deep for the dangers of what I might find there.
I’m much older now … and no longer afraid of snakes. I’m also pretty sure just what I will find.
There was, and still is, so much that’s beautiful about the country South…traditions that are sweet and enjoyable when appreciated on the surface…customs which when practiced without close examination are like the blossoms picked from the outermost branches of the honeysuckle vine. Even today it is risky, if not treacherous, to poke around. One might uncover what has long been hidden, what structures are only half-toppled, and containers allowed to corrode and slowly leak toxicity into the ground around our neighbors and children, unnoticed.
I remember the taste of fuzzy warm figs pulled straight from the branches just outside the dark cool garage into which grandmamma daily drove her bulky green Packard. I would linger outside the back door to play and I remember being scolded by the Mockingbirds. Even with the constant drone of crickets, locusts, and cicadas, I would notice the carpenter bees boring holes in the foundation and rafters of the porch. I would sit up in the dust and make houses for toads with my bare feet and nudge rolly-polly bugs until they’d ball up to hide.
It was way too hot to run around…so hot that life was slow…another fond ‘beauty’ of the south. The heat pounded you to where you forgot there was anything else possible. My grandmamma used to say that for a lady to survive the heat, she was to “always wear white, sit very still, and think no disturbing thoughts.”
I’ve been struggling with lots of disturbing thoughts lately, concerning the lack of any interest in getting along in this country and how this preoccupation with attacking each other is making us vulnerable to outside threats. Friends, coworkers, and even family members don’t mind risking the destruction of the friendship, the working relationship, the cohesiveness of the family, or even the fabric of our nation when they launch into diatribes about the Liberals, Republicans, immigrants, or blacks.
I have been told that “because the minds and bodies of Liberals have been severed from their spirits, they are all mentally ill and are incapable of hearing the truth, as their souls are forever plunged into the depths of darkness.” When I mention in passing that pesticides are killing my bees, I’m attacked because “Regulations are killing freedom.” The bagger at the grocery store tells my daughter that because she is a Democrat, she has “the blood of unborn babies on her hands.”
The sun this morning was warm but the breeze fresh and full of future. Without a moment’s deliberation, I decided to start knocking down the honeysuckle that has been growing up and blocking my view down the hill in back. It is what stands between me and clarity deep down into the woods and out beyond. I would take my time but be persistent because this mess didn’t grow in one day, and anything done thoroughly will be an improvement.
I shoved my garden clippers and Japanese hand saw into a bucket, and carefully stomped past the bird feeders to shoo away any early snakes in the clearing. I put down the bucket and crouched to work the hand saw on a small beech tree. If worked correctly with the right amount of patience, the Japanese hand saw can sever any limb or small trunk. As I pushed and pulled, letting the teeth do all the work, I thought about that other issue in my life: the deeply rooted racism in my family which has grown to include distrust of the government and anything and everything ‘green’ or ‘liberal.’
I have stood, alone, on the opposite side of my family of origin for as long as I can remember…always sensitive and close to tears. I was scolded for asking why ‘colored people’ sat separately. I was condemned with, “Why can’t you be like the rest of us?” I was thrown from the family by my father when I dated a young black man.
As I worked, the memories fluttered down like black and white photos being poured from a box.
Grabbing the stump end to drag it up the hill, I was met with strong resistance…that lovely-smelling stuff that hides so much. I pulled the tree until the vines were taut and snipped at each, one at a time, wondering, “Just what are you hiding here?”
After a while, fatigued but still determined, I noticed that I could snip right through a half-inch sapling. I was either getting stronger or memories are strengthening fuel. I saw how it might be possible to cut away at the family issues if I remained committed to it. I can push back when appropriate and pull away when necessary and let the ‘teeth’ of truth and light do the work.
This process is time-consuming and requires patience, but alternate methods can destroy too much. Some would rather use something gas-powered, a controlled burn, or even a grader to level off the whole hillside. But the risks of loss are too great. I don’t want to destroy what’s good about my family…or the South…or America. I want to uncover what needs exposing, extricate the ties that keep stuff held in place, and clear away what prevents the deeper view…so that we might all find some peace.