I fell deep into nostalgia this weekend, and normally I wouldn’t present that with any kind of apology or guilt, but moving now to the stage of the weekend where pedantic thought is an obligation, I am feeling a little strange about spending the last 36 hours in 1997. It really started on Wednesday when a friend reminded me of the existence of this song:
It was on a tape of Seeger family hits that my dad (Otis) used to play in the car. It’s not lost on me that this is a great example of my parents being such Chapel Hill Parents–folk and classical music ubiquitous when they grew up on Led Zeppelin, books on Native Americans, cacti, and the Titanic, subscriptions to girl power magazines, and frequent trips to the university to have us wander through McCorkle Place and imagine. I’ve been listening to Peggy Seeger all weekend, thinking of Otis. He is from Rocky Mount, one of six kids and four boys. And he has three daughters, all raised in, at best, intellectual havens, and at worst, liberal bastions. There are good stories (getting more poignant with age and repetition) about Otis figuring out young girls and playing Mr. Mom while my mom was doing her residency–the time he almost dropped Caroline off a waterfall, fixing my hair every morning in a Snow White, and reading Laura Ingalls Wilder in bed with us. It is also not lost of me that in playing us Peggy Seeger in the Honda, he was planting, at the least, well-adjusted girl seeds, and at the best, young feminist seeds. What a gift to receive at age five!
Yesterday, Caroline and I drove out to my uncle’s old peach farm in Zebulon. He and his wife are moving three minutes down the road to Wake Forest, into a development and a house with a dishwasher, a convection oven, and a shower with multiple heads. I hadn’t been down to their farm since I was five. My last memories there are of playing in a baby pool, eating a hot dog, being told to get out of the little cemetery in the front, and being held upside down by my ankles by my uncle. My dad and my other uncle had come down to help clean out the shed out front, which has collected an incredible amount of memorabilia, farm tools, Popular Mechanics from the 1970s, and peach baskets. Caroline and I helped a little, but took the opportunity to walk around the property, now taken up by growing soybeans and fallen tobacco stalks and lonely decaying tobacco leaves.
We saw the trailer Otis lived in while he was at State, the location where he famously almost contracted jaundice from eating only sweet potatoes (ask for the truth another time). We walked by the irrigation pond, saw the old tobacco sheds. We picked up shotgun shells and wondered. We picked scuppernongs off the vines, sucked out the flesh, and spit out the seeds. We walked around the Watkins cemetery and thought about Rose Mary Adams. We saw my grandfather’s tool box, his name, E. Fryar, painted in red on the top. We felt through the chinks in the cabin, imagined the first family that lived there post-Civil War. We climbed up the loft and worried about spiders. We found the clipping my aunt’s first wedding announcement (Ms. Fryar Is A Bride) in a book. We saw a pile of discarded sea shells that my grandfather collected down in Atlantic City.
After cleaning up a bit, we went back to the new house, had salad, lasagna, and coffee cake, and talked about what I am doing and what Caroline is doing and what Elizabeth, our younger sister, is doing. A nice dinner. Before we went home, we had that treat of treats, looking at family pictures: my great-grandmother, Mamie Taylor, and her nursing certificate from Little Washington, my grandfather looking dour and perfecting the Fryar chin (that is, not having one at all), my other great-grandmother, Donie Bass, the woman who had tuberculous for fifty years, also quite dour in a pair of thin-rimmed glasses, and my dead aunt, Judy, as a glassy-eyed baby.
It was a good weekend for reflection (what weekend isn’t a good weekend for reflection when you’re in American Studies?), and I moved through it dripping with nostalgia for my first wanderings around UNC as a kid, my first memories of being conscious of being a girl and proud of that, of being held upside down and disturbing the who-knows-how-old graves among the peach trees, the rusty tractors and discers, dried tobacco leaves, sea shells in the woods, a beaver pond back there in the woods, the overhanging part of the shed that Willie built, the dusty pots, the molding fabric flowers, the roots growing up into the cabin, the asparagus patch put down by my grandfather and now gone all to seed, the blackberry bush poles lined up so nicely, the dirt not red and the air strangely not noisy with bugs, but filled still with grasshoppers, Peggy Seeger in my head, and three Fryar brothers hauling this treasure and that out of a 150-year-old building and into their trucks.