Sunday, August 05, 2012

Raspberries and red wine

In one month, I will have been living in this country for 15 years.  15 years is a consequential bit of time, it cannot be dismissed as an experiment or an act of whimsy.

When people ask, as they will, how long I've been here, where I'm from, why on earth I'm here, I answer with facts. But that's not what they're looking for.

Behind their questions I hear hidden ones, or maybe I project them there myself.

How can you remember who you are when you are so very far from where you grew up?  From everyone who knows you?  What anchors you?

I never really answer.  I weave pretty tales of cross-cultural communication and assimilation and integration.  But I do not tell them how far from stable, in the most literal sense of the word, being a foreigner is.

I always come home after one of those conversations unsettled.  My perpetual state, but worse on nights like those.

And so I end it the only way I can.  I pour a glass of thick red wine.  A tale of the dirt and sunshine and wood that surrounds me but is not my own.  And raspberries, like those I picked off bushes at my grandmother's house decades ago.  A fruit that can be sweet, but not that much.  An echo of home but no more.  

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Some of my people

I read a book a long time ago.

It was an ethnography and spoke of literacy and poverty and race. Of mill towns along a southern river and the lives people led there.

It took a chapter for me to realize it was a book about places where part of my family comes from.  I was a graduate student, reading case studies about people that lived a life identical to that of my grandmother.  Of mill workers' children that mirrored my mother's childhood experience.  Gunny sack clothing and food stamps for the school cafeteria.  Tobacco field work in the summer and citrus fruit once a year.

I didn't tell anyone in class.  Not because I was ashamed but because I didn't know how to explain what had happened within the space of one generation.  I didn't know how to accurately describe what they had given, fought for, lost and learned.

How could I?