Today was an amazing day for me and the first time I felt “at home” in South Carolina, all because of the wonderful women that I met at Brookgreen Park, who are carrying on the arts and traditions of my paternal grandmother’s “Geechee” Gullah people.
I was at the park with my family, a surprise day for my granddaughter, as part of her birthday celebrations. As we entered the park and I saw the beautiful, vibrant yet calming old trees, I could feel my blood pressure begin to drop. Trees have a very special place in my heart and soul, and the clearcutting that has surrounded us as housing that is gentrifying the area and making it unaffordable for locals, has hurt my heart and made me disgusted by the government that allows it in the name of “revenue” and “employment” with little concern for the environment, the long term impact on local constituents, or the depletion of local cultures. That the beauty and culture that attracts people are being undermined and destroyed in the process of “development” and (shudder) “progress.”
So this gorgeous haven lifted my spirits as we entered and made our way towards the scarecrow making, pumpkin decorating, and crafts we’d brought Olivia there to enjoy.
As we were passing the gift shop, there were local artisans with their beautiful hand made wares.
Virginia “Genya” Watson stopped me as I admired her work, and bowed in respect, stating that she felt my spirit and knew I’d been through many journeys in life. She and her young helper were warm in ways that brought me home to some of the sweetest moments of my childhood. And the beauty of the dolls was stunning!
(My photo doesn’t do justice to the fine detailing on each)
I also admired the basketry of a woman-still busy with a new creation- who looked up only to answer my questions. Noting a particularly stunning basket that I recognized from its West African counterpart, we discussed rice culture for a minute, and when I asked her name, I was astounded to realize I was in the company of Miss Ivie Barnwell, a well known and venerated basket weaver who I’d heard about for years.
I was unable to purchase the beautiful, flat, rice basket, but am thrilled to have this beautifully crafted little sister, still smelling of sweet grass and “home.”
Talking with these women was of course, a perfect connection for my professional work, but what brought me nearly to tears was the sense of recognition we all shared. My sense of self, of place, of belonging, had been shattered with my husband’s death. Finding myself in a state I’d never wished even to visit had left me alienated and sad, despite the incredible love and kindness of my family who’d kept me alive, the joy of being around my granddaughter, and the goodness of my neighbors. Only the trees and other “folks” of the natural world had given me any sense that I might eventually adapt, but the connection to the Ancestors that had carried me through every difficulty, obstacle, and loss my entire life, had been missing, and the hurt and anger I’ve felt since Raymond’s death seemed irreparable.
Yet something in these women and the smell of sweetgrass- which I normally associate with my mother’s Native American people- was instantly healing and soul replenishing.
There aren’t words for these experiences, though I will likely write in “anthro-speak” at some point in order to try. But for now, it’s enough that it happened. It is enough that those drops of healing balm repaired something in my scorched and broken soul. That for now, I am not abandoned nor broken or- at this moment- bereft.
That in this moment, it is well with my soul.