ves·tige (noun), pronounced \ˈves-tij\
1) a: a trace, mark, or visible sign left by something (as an ancient city or a condition or practice) vanished or lost
b: the smallest quantity or trace
Origins: from the Latin vestīgium, meaning “footprint”
For the past two weeks of Ramadan, I’ve been back in Florida, first to Pensacola, my hometown; or, perhaps I should say my birthplace, since it no longer has the semblance of home. I drove about seven hours from Charlotte back there to clear out my mother’s backyard as the city had written my family an infraction for an unkempt grass and a dangerous accumulation of scrap metal, wood, and miscellaneous junk. Grooming the backyard has never been an easy choir, even while my mother was alive; my brothers and I, when we were young, cringed at the drudgery of raking and bagging piles upon piles of fallen leaves from the huge oak tree or of cleaning out the roach and rat infested shed from the useless paraphernalia my mother had a habit of keeping or of climbing atop of the roof and sweeping the leaves off. (Okay, the last one was pretty fun). With regard to the drudgery, this time was no different, especially in Florida’s hot and humid summer days; but, I can say the whole process, unlike back during my childhood, was cathartic, nostalgic, and solemn, something I didn’t quite expect when I took on the task.
We’d been neglecting the back yard – really the entire house, but that’s a whole other story – since she died back in October. Don’t castigate us because all three of us are already torn inside because of it, and yet I entirely don’t place so much blame of us. We are currently so distant and decentralized that coordinating efforts to handle these affairs has been a burden in and of itself: my older brother, Marcus, lives in Houston with his family, roughly six hours away from Pensacola; my younger brother, Ian, is stationed in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, which is seven to eight hours away; and I reside in Charlotte, which is again seven to eight hours away. We are all fatherless, our fathers being either dead, unreliable, or some cross-section of the latter two. Our kith and kin in Pensacola, save for a few, are as equally unreliable as our derelict and dead fathers. Both my brothers are working and my older brother has a family to support, which prevents them from making the necessary time commitments to do this sort of thing. I, on the other hand, have neither obligation, and thus I can afford to take on such a venture. The situation is reminiscent of when my mother fell ill: the majority of the care-giving fell on my shoulders simply because I was the one who could bear it, given my status as a bachelor with no real obligations and debt. Although I can’t say I like being unemployed, I can testify to silver lining within its cloud: I’ve been handed the freedom to acquire some closure in this regard, and that perhaps is a blessing well worth the stink of unemployment.
The job took about a week, and in those days, I relinquished the Ramadan fast since working in the hot, summer sun for five and six hours at a time isn’t conducive for the rigors of the fast. On the first day, I tackled the monumental task of rarefying the six-feet tall grass (not an exaggeration) with a lawn mower and a sling blade, but I was not without help. My eighty-three year old grandfather, who I affectionately called Granpa, was there to help me: he push the mower and I swung the blade.
When I expressed my concern for him working in the hot sun, he said, laughing, “Shit boy! This ain’t nothin’! I grew up on farm, workin’ from sun up ta dun down. I’m mo’ worried ’bout you! You ain’t cut out fo’ dis sorta work! You be doin’ dat desk work.”
I laughed and retort, “Nah Granpa! I can handle dis! I’m Cynt’s son! (My mother’s name was Jacintha, but Cynt was her nickname). Momma taught us how to work shit like dis! I like workin’ outside anyway. Guess I get it from yo side of da family!”
The next couple of days consisted of hauling rotting wood, rusty burn barrels, tires, and trash to and from the junk yard. I enlisted the aid of a friend of my Granpa’s named Lonnie – a drunkard, to be sure, but a hard worker nonetheless – to help me with the job.
Before I left Pensacola, I had a chance to speak with my Granpa over some Southern cooking he made. I asked him about what it was like growing up on the farm back in the old days. I’ve pieced together fragments of the conservation below from my memory. Next time, insha’Allah, I’ll record it.
Me: Granpa, wat waz it like growin’ up in Alabama, on the farm?
Granpa: (turns and looks at me) Well, there’s wazn’t no Day Light Saving Time back then, ya see, so we just worked from sun up ta sun down. We made everythang we needed. We used ta churn the milk an’make our own butta. An’ when we would kill a cow or a hog, the whole neighborhood would come a get some of da meat. We’d shoot the hog in da head an’ string him up an’ gut him, let the intestines fall out. That’s where da chitlins come from. Boil the head an’ make cheese outta da fat. We put some of it in da smoke house for bacon. We ate everythang on the pig but his asshole.
Me: (slightly disgusted with the thought of chitlins) Were there only Black folks in the neighborhood?
Granpa: (pause) Hell nah! Shit, it waz some White folks there too! They waz poo’ jus like the rest of us! We gave’em some of dat meat. It didn’t matter back ’cause everybody waz poo’, da Black and da White. You knew dat da White man had somethin’ ova you, but really, it didn’t matter, ya see. We all worked there together, ya see. We ain’t hear nothin’ bout no Klu Klux Klan till we got grown.
Granpa: Yeah. Ya kno, lot’em niggas got Irish or Indian (Native American) blood in ’em. Ma grandmomma waz Indian: she had hair bout dat long – (Makes a four foot gap with his hands) – and she used ta chew tobacco. Could spit one right ‘tween yo eyes. Nastiest shit I ever did see. Yo grandmomma had that Irish in the blood: that’s how come yo uncle Marvin look like he do.