We used our hands for union. We would pray, nurture as well as love through the darkness of our hands. Amongst the brokenness, lied a tender softness that communicated some sense of understanding. In particular, a mother gently patting the face of a sick child to determine sickness or a tight squeeze to the hand during prayer to acknowledge the next persons suffering allowed us to see ourselves in the eyes of someone else. It was in these moments of sharing that connected us to spirit. In the south, black folks had found Earth to be that sense of communion. They’re hands were used to plant seeds in fruitful gardens as well as their fingers gently mending tears in old clothing. There was life in old men hiking down to the creek for fishing while children ran around bare foot immersing their toes in the red clay-like soil. Dwelling within nature had given black life a rich dark sweetness that was long and life affirming.
My father, a rooted southern man, grew up in a small town in Louisiana called Franklinton. I could tell by the way he laughed at his own stories that ‘down south’ was more than a small town but a place that molded him. He would speak slowly, while his hands gestured different characters moving in and out of the plot, then he would pause letting his eyes daze off into a memory. Then suddenly, I’ll hear his laugh make a crackling noise until his whole body was sent into pure joy. As a young girl, we would take road trips down from Chicago to visit my grandmother, Faye. I remember being fascinated by its long winding roads surrounded with towering pine trees that seem to never end if you tilted your head back just enough to peer into the sky.
The sweet smell of warm rainfall against burning wood would greet me with open arms as soon as we crossed the Louisiana state line. I would ride along allowing my senses lure me into nostalgia, as my memories of the south became a place where I called home. The smiles, tipping of the hat or the silent waving of the arm as we passed by expressed a love I wasn’t familiar with in the north. There were no blank faces, cold shoulders or clutching of the belongings like life had been for us up north. I had observed an intimacy in the south, where black folks made an effort to care for each other as well as themselves. Everyone’s home was mine as much as it was theirs, as soon as you’d walk in they’ll say something like, “C’mon have something to eat, I jus’ got done cook’n around this messy kitchen,” as they scuffle around making room for you a seat. In their homes, you can see they didn’t care to prepare for guests or make things tidy before someone came for a visit. It was a down home feeling of comfortability, which made the experience even more cozy.
As children, we were safe to wonder through weepy willows, skipping our bare feet over red ant hills then laughing hysterically at literally nothing at all. Then once the sun would set within the horizon, we would race each other all the way to my grandmother’s house until we were out of breath. Grandma Faye’s house would be filled with drunk uncles, aunties making us plates of food, cigarette smoke, with aside of shit talking. The screen door would screech open as my dad would walk in from a day of fishing, his hands would be blacker than they had been before he left, which provided us with living proof of his day’s work. Once it was time to eat, we would all hold hands sharing not only a silence in prayer but a sweet dark communion of love. On our journey’s back to the north, I would take with me a richness I had seen in southern black folks. To me, they will always be as sweet as molasses.