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Returning To My Roots
Returning To My Roots
On the first full day of my visit to my grandmother’s house, my eyelids draw open like heavy curtains, recognizing the pale light of a Georgia morning. Wiping the sleep from the corners of my cornflower blues, I slip languidly from under the warm comforter and cross the room that was my sanctuary when I was little. Everything is as it has always been: toys in plastic containers, a dresser overstuffed with clothing, a trunk of antiques planted at the foot of the bed. When I catch sight of my reflection in the mirror by the door, I faintly expect to see my childhood self, as unchanged as the room. A second glance counters this unlikely notion. I have grown.
I find Grandma in the kitchen sizzling eggs on a frying pan. She greets me with a “Good morning, Sweetheart,” setting a steaming mug on my placemat. I inhale the bittersweet scent of hot cocoa then take a prolonged sip. Grandma hands me breakfast—scrambled eggs, chopped cantaloupe, and toast with butter—and informs me of middle Georgia’s happenings.
“I’ve gotta get some milk and food today,” she says after a story about a babysitter who left two toddlers stranded at a lake in Montezuma, a town nearby.
“I’ll come with you,” I offer, polishing off the last of my eggs. I excuse myself from the kitchen and emerge again after thirty minutes, ready to go. Grandma selects her car keys from a wooden hook. This simple action creates a measure of clanking and chiming, as there are so many trinkets hanging from the protruding fixture.
Once Grandma and I are out on the road, I savor the old-fashioned town with its real Victorian homes and modest shops that I hadn’t thought to appreciate when I was younger. Each dwelling has its own structure so exceptional that you can see the architect’s passion radiating from the floor to the shingles. The stores, heartily refusing to succumb to competition from the Wal-Mart and shopping mall in the nearest city, are just as romantic as the houses. There’s a place that sells antiques, a florist, and a barbershop, each petite and personal. I can’t help but compare the town to my new residence, Killeen, Texas, where the suburban houses are as indistinguishable as Mary-Kate and Ashley and unnecessary businesses are slapped up overnight. I mutter a quick prayer in hopes that this town can escape the clutches of industrialization.
We pull into the parking lot of a grocery store called Red & White. There are men hanging outside, their ebony skin leathery, hair graying, and eyes calm. The conversation they are having is animated, whatever it is about. I remember being afraid of them years ago, but Grandma would always tell me that they wouldn’t harm a fly. They were just elderly locals with nothing in particular to do in a town that didn’t discourage loitering.
A gust from the air conditioner clashing with the increasingly hot outdoor air welcomes us into the Red & White along with two smiling cashiers. Grandma picks up a crimson basket from the stack and meanders into the miniscule aisle labeled “Frozen Foods” with me trailing behind. It doesn’t take long to reach the opposite end of the store, which doesn’t even have magazines.
“How are y’all doin’ today?” the cashier, an African-American man in his mid-50s, asks us as he scans a package of bread. I am taken aback by the enthusiasm in his voice; he genuinely cares about our plans for the day.
“I’m takin’ my girls (Grandma’s term for my sister Emily and I) out to the fair tonight to see the fireworks,” Grandma tells him, a proud smile stretching across her attractive face. I never quite got over how beautiful my grandma is, especially after she has lived a life fit for a classic novel. The creases in her forehead, which reveal times when she furrowed her brows in worry as a foster child, grimaced from having nothing to eat but mustard sandwiches for a month, and crinkled her face up during fights with past lovers, are mere battle scars and do not distract from her captivating sapphire eyes. She even refuses to let her hair gray, dying it a brunette shade so convincing that a stranger may scold himself for ever questioning its authenticity.
“Ahhh, so this is one of those grandbabies!” The cashier’s soulful rasp interrupts my transfixion. Grandma introduces me, explaining that Emily is back at the house sleeping. After chatting for a few minutes more, Grandma and I exit the store. Though I hadn’t met him until today, I feel as though the cashier was an old friend with whom I had just reunited.
As soon as dusk casts its somber orange glow, Grandma and I pile into the car again, now in the company of Emily. Our destination is Perry, a city best known for its large fairgrounds. This time, we pass through the rural area of town. I gaze admiringly at the rolling acres of cotton fields, ignoring the sharp pesticide odor nipping at my nostrils.
“You know what? I need to take a picture of you girls there,” Grandma says matter-of-factly, motioning to the neatly lined fruit trees now appearing outside our vehicle’s windows. “I can call it ‘My Peaches in the Peach Orchard!’” Normally, I would have giggled like a typical modern teen at the seemingly cheesy suggestion, but the sincerity in my grandmother’s voice helps me remember my Georgia manners.
We park alongside the mammoth orchard. It’s an environmentalist’s green dream, with each tree producing plump peaches and healthy leaves. I inhale the orchard’s intoxicatingly sweet perfume and, for the first time since my visit here, feel overwhelmed. Not by city things like traffic or trends, but by the reality that land this gorgeous has not yet mutated into a plaza or intersection.
“Smile big!” Grandma tells Emily and me. I wrap my fingers around a slim peach tree branch, using it as a prop for my pose. Forget the few years I’ve spent in the city; I will always be a proud granddaughter from Marshallville.