Midnight Sun–On the Backs of my Ancestors

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Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Zoltán Bánfalvy

A friend of mine said I need to blog about things that just affect me. He said to call it whatever I wanted to but I had to blog and get more personal. So, I’ve called this category of the blog Midnight Sunshine and for this first post about me, I want to talk about my family reunion.

I had the privilege of going to my family reunion last weekend. If my mother reads this, she’ll probably smirk because she knows how difficult it was to get me to attend.  After all, I’m busy with life and busy with writing and busy with my show and busy with blah, blah, blah. It wasn’t that important to me to go at first. But for all good daughters with mothers that ride you until you capitulate or shoot yourself in the head, I sucked in my breath, threw back my hair, and did what I was told to.

Friday was meet and greet night. When I walked into my parent’s house, I looked up and saw my grandfather in feminine guise. Dark chocolate skin with even darker eyes that took in a lot at first glance.  A kind smile and I instantly knew this was my cousin. More mature than me but yet, we had the same blood. Granddaddy had been dead for years and yet, here he was again and a wealth of memories exploded in my mind. Memories I had forgotten about.  After the reunion, I find myself thinking of him. Granddaddy had been tall, with big lips and a raspy voice. His hair was sparse and gray but I remember feeling nothing but love for him. I can remember that after Granddaddy watched his soap operas (which I now know to be General Hospital) he’d let us watch TV with him and we’d watch cartoons or movies.

And to really age myself, I remember taking out a giant laser disc, flipping it over and pushing it back in the machine to watch the other half of the movie.

I’ve given myself away. o_O

The next night was the banquet. What was funny about that was the fact there were more canes in there than at an orthopedic store. But I saw cousins I hadn’t seen in a long time. All of them in some sort of degree work, or working. The babies from long ago were now tall tweens standing and looking down at me. The babies were now toddling about the place.

Then came the part of the reunion that is etched in my memory and will be for a very long time. We had never met my grandfather’s side of the family but now I was exposed to stories of not so very long ago. Of the women who worked as sharecroppers and maids. Of the men who were killed by lynchings, mobs, and bigotry. The thoughts of dreams had never been in their lives — it was just a big deal to survive in the Deep South.

1009447_681467245201825_1754735879_oMy grandfather’s brother, Jesse James Payne, was kidnapped, hunted down, and eventually shot due to an altercation between him and his landlord. I’d had no idea this had happened. During the time frame in question, he really didn’t have any hope of justice.

After all his death was a sign to other black people at the time to ‘know their place’.

My cousin said, “You must never forgot the sacrifices of those who went before you. You are where you are today because you stand on their backs.”

Sunday was church and I had to scurry from one church service to another but I got my praise on. So much so, I hurt my back and my legs in the process. But if felt so good to be part of a heritage that is riddled with pain.

Monday night, I got depressed with my novel I’m working on. Riddled with the constant doubts that writers besieged themselves with, for a half hour or so, I’d hit the bottom of failure well. But then, my grandfather’s face lifted before my eyes and I could see shadows of those family members I never knew.  And in my mind, they laid on the ground, backs exposed, and told me to walk on.

So I have to try. I have to keep working to become a better person, a better writer. To press onward and upward so they will know I appreciate everything they did for me.

I think writers, as we strive for our craft, to improve and to hone, maybe need to remember our family histories. Maybe it wasn’t racial bigotry that caused your ancestors’ dreams to remain unfulfilled but financial constraints, gender discrimination, socio-economic status…remember you walk on the backs of those before you who long, and dreamed to be where you are.

I make this pledge to my dead ancestors…with every book I publish I will make sure to thank them for allowing me to carry on their dreams.

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One response to “Midnight Sun–On the Backs of my Ancestors

  1. Very stirring and moving Parker. Thank you for sharing with us about a small piece of your family’s rich heritage. Can’t you picture them in your fancy, smiling down at you and saying with a deep sigh of satisfaction, “It was worth it”?

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