Thank You, Black Southern Belles

southern_magnolia_tree_drawingIn the twenty-plus years since the Internet became a feature of our lives, there have emerged a couple of articles of conventional wisdom that I, for one, find pretty dubious.

First, there’s the claim that “everything on the Internet lasts forever,” usually made in reference to warnings about the dangers of teen “sexting,” or work emails that are discoverable in lawsuits.

I can personally attest that the “Internet is forever” claim is less true than you would think: once when I was leaving a job and was told I could have a copy of my archive of 75,000 emails over eight years, the task was somehow botched, and the day-to-day record I’d assumed I’d have forever—the trail of messages marking my wedding planning, mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s, and the birth of my first child—was lost forever.

Another trope that has grown more recently—as folks’ awareness about algorithms has grown—is to remark on the uncanny way that digital ads so perfectly match our demographics and interests.

Sometimes, though, that “perfect matching” can yield some pretty unexpected—and in my case, thought-provoking results: A few weeks ago, an ad popped up on my Facebook page inviting me to like a website called [Read more…]

A Corporal Work of Mercy

I was nearly two weeks late, so I already knew the answer, but I took the test anyway, in the bathroom of my dad’s house in Louisiana. We’d driven down from Virginia, two solid days in the car with our children, ages seven and two.  My sister drove her two days from Kansas.

The long drive isn’t the only reason our reunions have become increasingly rare. Since I left more than ten years ago, I don’t go home often. Except in dreams.

It was New Year’s Day. Standing there in the dim light, staring at the positive result on the test stick, hearing the competing voices of my sister and children in the next room, I felt as if this might be just another garbled midnight transmission, a dream of that first positive test, eight years ago now, in the bathroom of our first house in South Bend.

The kind of dream in which nothing is as it should be. [Read more…]

The Seed in the Grave

When the creamy, letter-press-printed wedding invitation arrived on a wintry February day, it seemed an opportunity too good to pass up: The groom was a childhood friend who had been longing for a bride ever since our college days. A quarter-century later, he finally found her.

The wedding was in Mississippi, and I could visit my beloved, Jackson-based older brother without husband and children in tow, for two days afloat and unmoored, a single girl again. I pulled the credit card out of my purse and began searching for flights.

But frivolity was not what I was thinking about on the wedding day; instead the very opposite, the tangle of inchoate obligations that tether us.

We decided to drive up to Yazoo City to visit our parents’ graves. Despite the previous late night, with a long wine- and conversation-filled dinner after my flight, and even though it was already late morning and the wedding was back in Jackson at three that afternoon, we poured coffee and set off on the forty-two mile drive up Highway 49 in my brother’s Toyota Camry. [Read more…]

The Anniversary of My Father’s Death

“After the first exile, there is no other.”
—Rosellen Brown, The Autobiography of My Mother, 1976

The great wheel of the year has turned once more, and I find myself back at the beginning again. Not at the start of a brand new year, but rather, at the anniversary of my father’s death.

I was eight years old when he died, on January 8, 1977, after six long months of decline from lung cancer. In the family’s last-minute midnight scramble to the King’s Daughters Hospital to offer a final farewell, I was adjudged too young and too asleep to wake up for the ride.

I found out that he had died when I crawled from bed at dawn the next morning, yawning and jonesing for cartoons, only to find a bathrobed neighbor stoking the fireplace, and my father disappeared into ether. [Read more…]

In Defense of Fine China

Twelve years ago, during the short months of our engagement before my husband and I were married, I had the pleasure of registering for wedding presents.

As a young child, I had watched all three of my older sisters select china, crystal, and sterling at Delta East-West gift shop owned by Helen Ward Nicholas and located on Main Street in my hometown.

I watched them unwrap the towers of presents that resulted, invariably wrapped in slick white or shiny silver paper. They set out the gleaming wares on the dining-room table, the engraved calling cards of the givers—“Dr. and Mrs. Shelby Truesdale III,” say—nestled among them for visitors’ inspection. [Read more…]