Rachel’s Meemaw and the President’s Voice

I blinked awake from a deep, heavy sleep, with a pale, cold and grey morning light streaming through a blind-less, curtain-less window into my bedroom. My phone on the night stand to my right was buzzing, and evidently had been left too close to the former container of last night’s palliative. My heavy-drinking days have been behind me for years, but that December evening, like so much of 2017, had more than justified a sip or twelve. The vibration of foreign plastic against foreign glass had summoned me suddenly back into the land of the living. I rubbed my eyes as the buzzing stopped and fumbled for my glasses; otherwise my clock would continue looking like melted metal, and the world about me naught but an early Southern winter blur. Seven twenty seven; I had already overslept, but for a day off, it didn’t matter much. Who in the hell would be calling me this early?

Answering that question was simple enough, a matter of flipping the phone over and looking at the screen. I was expecting it to be work, and that my day off was about to die the all too familiar death of come-on-in-so-and-so-didn’t-show-up. What I saw, however, caught me by complete surprise, and I might as well have been kicked in the gut by a whole team of mules. I’m not going to justify why I still had her number. Men let go in different ways, and often in phases—sometimes short but often enough not short at all. She has been out of my life for over a full decade, but it never seemed right, no matter how many times I have switched these obnoxious little phones since the night it ended, to simply push delete on that tenuous connection. And there it was, as a missed call, from, of all people, her. I set it back down on the peach crate which functions as my nightstand, and decided not to fool with responding in any manner. I had no desire to speak to her. My day would be mine, maybe with a ride up into the mountains a few counties away, after the morning exercises and necessities. Thirty minutes later, as I was about to walk out of my door, the phone began buzzing again, this time in my pocket, and, sure enough, it was her. In a split second curiosity overcame my pride, and that old familiar and bitter anger, and I answered, far rougher than she was expecting no doubt:

“What the hell do you want?” I snapped, with a bit of a snarl in my inflection.

“So no hi or hello, just that. Clearly you still recognize or have my number…”

“Get to your point or I’m hanging up. I don’t have time for your nonsense.”

There was brief silence, and my thumb moved to the spot on the screen to end the call, but just as I was about to tap it, I heard her say “Meemaw wants to see you.”

I put the phone back to my ear, and replied “why would she want to see me? I haven’t seen her or your Papa or anyone else since you ended it between us.”

“You haven’t heard then…”she said, her voice trailing off with a slight sniffle, as though she were doing her best not to break into tears, but only just barely succeeding in the attempt. “Papa died two weeks ago, we had the funeral and everything, and we all thought we’d see you there, and Meemaw is flabbergasted that you didn’t show up, and she wants to see you, and…” She began crying, and I was speechless, and had a sickening feeling of immediate, hard, overwhelming regret, for having kept my distance from these people for years and years. What had been the point of that? Even though I hadn’t married their granddaughter in the end, I still could have visited and talked. It was the feeling of instantly knowing that I had managed to get something horribly wrong, and would never have a chance to fix it, at least towards her grandfather. That man, for the years that I had known him, was by any measure a hero to me, an influence for good, and a mentor if that word can be said to still have any meaning since black men in bowties stole it. I hadn’t seen an obituary—when was the last time I had even looked at the local rag calling itself a newspaper, much less read an obituary in it?

Between sobs she managed “you didn’t see it on Facebook?” No, I didn’t. I don’t live on there, but apparently, the soft option of “unfollow” in this instance meant that I hadn’t the slightest notion that her grandfather had passed. Yes, I still had her number, and was still on her absurdly named “friends list.” I let her get to a point where she could speak again, and we talked for bit longer. Pancreatic cancer at any age is nothing short of horrific, and no less so for a ninety-six year old man who had up till then still had his strength and mind. He apparently asked about me in a painkiller-induced stupor near the end. The compass and square apron had been placed on his waist, the flag had been folded, the earnest prayers of a Baptist minister were heard, and the rites of the Lodge performed, and through it all, her Meemaw had sat in her black dress, wrapped in a black shawl, saying not a word to anyone. “She didn’t talk all that day, or well into the next, she was just stunned, even though she had known it was coming. When she finally said anything, the first of it was about the amount of food everybody in the church had brought and kept bringing, and the second thing was to ask me why you weren’t there.”

“Rachel, I am genuinely sorry to find out that he’s gone, truly I am. Even if I had known, after what happened between us, how it ended, how you decided it had to be, do you honestly think it would have been the slightest bit appropriate for me to be anywhere near your family for anything, especially something as solemn as that?”

“This isn’t about us” she spat back with a more than noticeable, less than concealed tinge of anger. “You should have known, and you should have been there. You owed that to Papa and Meemaw. You should have…”

It was my turn for anger to flare, and I cut off and interjected “no, no, no, we’re not doing this. I didn’t know, I feel horrible about that now that I do, but you don’t get to call me out the sheer blue and all of a sudden start talking to me about what I do or don’t owe to anybody. That ended the moment you handed the ring back, so stop. I am sorry for your loss, but I do have to go now…”

“Will you go see Meemaw?”

“I don’t see what good that could possibly accomplish at this point, so no I don’t think I should.”

“All right, fine. I was giving you the chance to just be decent and go and do the right thing by them without telling you this, but since you seem to think what happened with us has anything to do with this, here’s the rest of it. She has something she says you have to see, and hear, that belonged to Papa. You, and nobody else. She was adamant about that, you. It’s something she apparently plans to give to you that belonged to his grandfather. Probably something to do with one of the wars since you two never shut about them when you were around each other. And she emphasized that you, you and none of us, had to hear that part of it that has to be heard. So if you can’t just go because she wants to see you, then go because you’re a curious bastard who can’t say no to something like that.”

Two hours later, sitting in my truck stopped at a red light in Athens, I looked at my watch. I’d be there on time. I suppose I could have said no, or said I’d be about another hour getting there and bypassed this town altogether, but there I was heading to see Rachel’s grieving grandmother, looking at streets and bars that each told a story to me, mostly about that fierce tug of war that once raged in my soul here in this college town between a call from above to preach, and a call from somewhat further down to chase redheads. The sidewalks were crowded with students ambling about, including one in a knitted Pink Pussy hat. Good Lord, this frigging town—it’s in enemy hands, just like every other college town in Dixie. I shook my head and cringed at both the stupid feminist in public, and simultaneous the thought of what I was like during that time period of my life—namely, an aimless, horny twenty-something drunkard—as the light turned green ahead. Her Papa and I had occasionally rode into Athens together, too, to watch that team he loved. Sports may very well be a giant distraction, but I find it impossible, and not even desirable, to purge it from my memories. He and I had sat in that stadium looking down between the hedges on his eighty-second birthday, and he had loved every minute of it, almost as much as the time a friend mine made arrangements for him to go up in a Flying Fortress for the first time since he climbed out of the nose-gunner position of one in 1945. I wonder how much of the news he had seen out of Germany in these recent years, whether or not he thought back on the war in a different light, seeing what has become of that nation. He had done his done his duty, he had done what was expected of him, and he had come back to a son he’d never seen, born two months after his transport ship docked in England.

The unsightly student-driven ever-outward sprawl of Athens waned, and the countryside of rolling fields and pinewoods began opening up all around me, and soon, in about another forty five minutes, I would round a curve, and see the peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains off on the horizon, and I’d be at a place that had been a second home to me after I had caught feelings for one of the aforementioned redheads. When I reached that turn, it struck me how bleak the acres of pecan trees through which the driveway passes looked in the closing days of the year. No cattle were to be seen; I suppose they finally sold them all off. The barn looked as if lightning had hit it. I pulled up next to a pair of cars, one much newer looking than the other, climbed out of the pickup, and gazed a moment at that homestead, taking it all in again. Rachel’s Papa had been born in that house then under my gaze; and, from what she had told me, he had died there as well. It had been built by the sweat, blood, tears and a vanished fortune of his grandfather, on a track of land that his grandfather’s grandfather had been granted by the State of Georgia for service in the Revolution. Rachel’s Papa told me that that ancestor of his had basically spent the whole war burning Tories out of house and home and rustling Loyalist cattle over in South Carolina, which had been more than enough to gain seven hundred acres on the old Indian frontier from the grateful Georgia legislature. The house itself stands two stories over stone risers, with a long single level porch on the front, the whole building being flanked by four large dressed field stone chimneys, the stones of which had been part of an earlier dwelling situated in the same place. I had been pressed into service splitting firewood to feed those ancient beasts more times than I can count, and that afternoon, a thin stream of smoke billowed from the one I knew to be servicing the fireplace of the “Sittin’ Room”. I walked up the steps to the porch, and I had pulled back the screen door and was about to take the old brass door knocker in hand when the pinewood door suddenly opened in front of me with an abundance of creaking, and out walked Rachel’s mother, who brought along a flurry of a hug I had not been expecting and a rush of words telling me that she was heading in to Athens for a few hours, and that Meemaw was expecting me in the Sittin’ Room—she then hastened to the shinier of the two cars, leaving me there with an open door, watching to see if my truck was about to get backed into, even though I parked next to the car now in motion. The truck proved to be safe, and I went on in, closing the door behind me, and down that familiar old dog-trot corridor I made my way to that room that had been a place of refuge for me. Rachel’s Papa could play any instrument with strings—as I heard the floorboards slightly moan under my footsteps, I remembered what it was like to walk through that threshold and immediately hear through those walls the ringing of a mandolin or the hum of a fiddle, to hear that while seeing these old photographs and paintings on the walls of the corridor—they’d come to life back then, I’d almost be willing to swear to it. The rosined bow would touch the string, and they’d smile. Their eyes would glint through the black and white across the chasms of time, from beyond death and the grave. That one holding the bowie knife, with CS on his belt buckle, I’d see him grinning like a possum, and I never once doubted his ability to use that blade. I suppose it was all in my mind, but I believed they were there, the same as I believed my own people were at my grandparent’s homes. The ties to the dead were real, and ever present. I knew the names of my own kin, and since Rachel was to be my bride, I learned the names and stories of these. I had dined with them, cried with them, been scalped with one of them, buried children with them, fought with them on every battlefield of the great invasion where they had fought, seen them baptized in Cold Creek, and set the stones and framing of this building—as Rachel’s Papa told it all, in cadences flowing the seasons of the hill people.

I stepped into the Sittin’ Room, and nothing, absolutely nothing about it had changed since 2007, except the rocker by the fireplace was empty, and on the small table beside the piano, something that appeared to be about seven inches high and square was sitting, covered in a smallish sheet of burlap. Rachel’s Meemaw stood as I entered the room, and I could tell instantly by the fire flashing in her eyes that not one bit of her wit and awareness had diminished in all these years; and, evidently, she had not reconsidered the pale yellow-green drapes that added a slightly sick mustardy look to the otherwise completely inviting room. A certain quality of frailness was now evident that had not been present when last I had seen her, as should well be expected for a petite woman at ninety-three years of age, but from what I gathered, she was still living at home, and had no intentions of moving into any sort of nursing facility. In her youth, her hair had been red, a trait which Rachel had inherited from her, but it long ago faded to silvery white, but unlike so many of the woman of her generation that I had known, she has refused to cut it short and have it curled—she wears it long, falling down her back, just as she had in her wedding picture in 1942. Her whole attire that afternoon was black, except her green plaid shawl and her UDC pin clipped to it. She looked me over, up and down, as if staring a bit of fatback that had cooked too long, and said “young man, why were you not at my husband’s funeral?”

“Ma’am, I am embarrassed to admit that I did not know that he had passed until I was told this morning…”

“You had a duty to know, and a duty to be there; now answer me again” she said, sitting down in her old rocker, and gesturing towards the high-backed red chair, the least comfortable in the whole house, for me to sit, “answer me again boy, without making excuses, why were you not at my husband’s funeral?”

“Ma’am, I didn’t know…”

She held up the palm of her hand toward me, shaking her hand dismissively, and said, staring right through me, “and why didn’t you know boy?”

“I…I…I…” I began stuttering, trying to respond, and again, she cut me off.

“You didn’t know because you chose to have nothing to do with us when that whore of a granddaughter of mine broke your fool heart. And you held that against all of us, when we loved you as one of our own, and still do. You chose not to walk through that door for the rest of his life. Now tell me child, why were you not at my husband’s funeral?”

Frankly, I couldn’t look her in the eyes at that moment. I stared at the blaze in the fireplace, and ventured “I was not there ma’am, because I am an idiot.”

She has always been blunt—or “direct” as she called it. “Yes, you are, but not for the reasons you now believe. And you have gotten fat too, which is entirely your fault, but I have not asked you here to discuss your belt size or brain size. You should have been there, at the funeral; and you should have been here, many times over the last ten years. But child, we must forgive each other. I forgive you for neglecting the times that would have taken place, and you must forgive us for having first believed Rachel over you. I love her dearly, but she will never sort herself out, but you know as well as I do that had you had your act together then, you two would have given me great-grandbabies aplenty by now. That won’t be, and all of that, all of it, is buried in the past, as is now the man I loved, and child, we must see to his affairs while I am still on this pilgrimage. I know well that my days are waning, and that I won’t be far behind him. So, silly young man, are willing to see to the affairs of my husband today, to the extent that doing so involves you?”

“Yes ma’am” I replied, taking in her words as well as the way she spoke, in the lilts and practiced diction of Augusta and Athens old-money, with just a hint of Charleston, which she never abandoned, not even after more than seventy years of life with “her hillbilly farm boy.”

She then passed a heavily-yellowed envelope to me from the telephone table beside her, and said “do you remember my husband speaking of his grandfather, than man who built this house, the man who’s out there on that wall, holding the long knife?”

“Yes ma’am. If I remember correctly, he had been in the war, and then afterwards made quite a name for himself writing for a few papers before coming back here.”

“Well your memory is better than your ability visit it would seem; he was indeed as you said. He took his wound on the second day of Gettysburg, when the Georgians in Wright’s Brigade broke through the Yankees briefly. He spent the next six months in the hospital in Richmond, and somehow met Edward Pollard, a Virginian editor, you might recall his name…”

“Yes ma’am…”

“Don’t interrupt young man; anyway, Mr. Pollard took a liking to him, and realized his was literate, and could write fairly well, and let him write a few articles for one of the Richmond papers, and when it was all said and done, and he’d made it all the way back to Georgia, his older brother then had this land here, and so he wandered into Milledgeville, with a general letter of introduction from Mr. Pollard, and soon enough was writing for one of the papers there, and found himself having to go to Augusta often to report on the pernicious clique of Carpetbaggers based there that dominated this State in the days of Bullock, the so-called Governor. He ended up marrying an Augusta girl, and getting hired on by one of that city’s papers, and gained somewhat of reputation as a talented reporter before he took up the law, and long before he came back up here to farm and get himself elected to the General Assembly. He wrote about the Wade Hampton election over in Carolina for one of the New York papers in 1876, and his words gained him a certain amount of brief national fame amongst the journalists of that era.”

I was holding the envelope, and would not have dared open it until she bade me to; the rules of polite society, long dead elsewhere, where still reigning under her roof.

“Go ahead, open it. There’s a letter, and an account of some importance, which explains what must be heard today.”

I gingerly lifted the nearly torn flap of the envelope, and pulled out one folded paper, every bit as yellowed as its container, and a small bundle of loose pages, tied together with twine older than any human now living. As I was about to read the letter, my eyes wandered first to the signature line at the bottom, and my jaw dropped. I looked over at the matron of the house, incredulousness apparently shining through my very skin, as she said to me “read it”, nodding her command.

It was genuine. As many times as I had seen that signature, that handwriting, that style…

In response to your late inquiry, concerning my itinerary in Georgia, I will be at the veteran’s assembly by their invitation in Atlanta. If it would suit your purposes and those of Mr. Edison, I would be glad to meet with you after those proceedings are over, at a place of your choosing. Your invitation to your own home, in shade of the mountains, is most pleasing, and if possible, and agreeable, it may well be best as you said that the machine stay put. If it is necessary, as you suggest, to keep the presence of the machine at your location confidential, we may make arrangements such that my presence in your district is in no manner advertised beforehand.

                                                                                                Your servant,

                                                                                                Jefferson Davis

She was gazing at me, probably to see if I was going to fall off the chair, or combust, or shout some thrilled reaction.

“That letter, in your hand, was my husband’s second-most prized material possession, given to him by his grandfather, who had cherished it for years…”

“It is certainly genuine. When I was reviewing the Davis papers…”

“Child, what did I tell you about interrupting? You’re not here to tell me whether or not it’s genuine. I already know that it is. There is no mystery whatsoever about that fact. I know it’s real, and so did my husband, and his father, and his father’s father. Now if you’re done waving your education around, continue, read the bound papers. They are numbered, and in order.”

To call the narrative that unfolded in these pages “stunning” would be an understatement:

Mr. Edison asked for me to call at his workshop during that journey of mine up North; he was then undertaking an ambitious project for the sake of posterity, involving one of his inventions. With trusted men, able to safeguard the machines, and intelligent enough to operate the same, he dispatched to the leading lights of the world of those days, persons of note and interest, cylinders and solicitations for samples of their speaking. At least one he even sent across the Atlantic, to capture the voice of the renowned Gladstone. It had been suggested to Mr. Edison that many of the then still-living figures of prominence in the affairs of this land before and during the late unfortunate war would be worthy subjects of his plan, his idea of preserving for all time the voices of greatness in the nineteenth century…upon my arrival at Menlo Park, I was shown the device, and how to operate it by Mr. Edison himself, who began to expound on its possibilities, the role he saw his invention playing in preserving a record of the people who had shaped events of our century. He mentioned the late war, and that after much thought along those lines, he desired a recording of the voice of Jefferson Davis. Mr. Edison described him as “infamous to the North, beloved by South, and some measure of both to those unfortunate States once caught on both sides”, nonetheless, he had been reckoned a statesman, and had lived through the war with Mexico, and had the distinction of having been the head of a government that perished…I was to take the machine back to South with me, with fourteen cylinders, and to record as many of the old Confederate leaders still living as would consent, but my primary object, if he would agree, would be to gain the cooperation of Jefferson Davis in the project of Mr. Edison…

I had heard the recording of William Ewart Gladstone; I was aware that Edison had made some moderate success in using his patented device to capture a handful of nineteenth century figures, but I had no idea that he had made any effort to incorporate any from the defeated side of our great civil conflict. I was beginning to have a notion of what was sitting under that piece of burlap on the table. It was beyond belief, and my heart was pounding in my chest. This would no doubt be one of the greatest historical discoveries in decades.

I attended the convention at which Mr. Davis gave the keynote address in Atlanta; we were all surprised that Longstreet appeared, and we, to a man, were disinclined to welcome him on account of his actions in New Orleans and for Grant during last decade, but Mr. Davis embraced him, and welcomed him home, and it is safe to say that Longstreet has been restored. Mr. Davis and I met briefly afterwards, and discussed our best course of action. Mrs. Davis was ready to be back in Mississippi, and would go on, and it would appear such that Mr. Davis had left with her. But arrangements would be made for him to exit the train he had just boarded, and to come by carriage with me to my home. He would rest the evening and prepare what he ought to say to Mr. Edison’s machine, and the next day, I would operate the same, and let him speak his message to the future.

There was no doubt now in my mind what was under the burlap. It was the right size. Could it really be? All those years I had known these people, and right under my nose in this house—a treasure to a Southern man.

We arrived, ate a hearty supper, and sat on the porch and smoked that evening. Mr. Davis had a curious looking pipe, which he said had been with him at Fortress Monroe. The bowl was carved such that it looked as if it were held by a grasping eagle’s claw. I say with some pride that he was pleased with my tobacco, grown right here on the place. He was often described as cold and reserved, but I found him to be agreeable and pleasant. He was interested to know in what unit I had been in, and where I had been wounded during the war; in turn, I inquired of him what the noble Lee was like in person. We did not stay up particularly late, turning in perhaps two hours past sun down, with the President retiring to the guest room. The next morning at the breakfast table, Mr. Davis was noticeably agitated. Upon inquiring after how well he had rested, he said that he had been troubled by a dream he called horrid, in which his deceased first wife met him high on a hill, saying nothing, pointing to ruins that he understood to be in the far future, after which the dream placed him riding mounted beside Lee. He said that he had never put much stock in dreams as signs or warnings, but what passed between the riders, spoken in his dream, had chilled him to the bone. He thought it meant for him, but pondering upon it, he had decided what he would say into Mr. Edison’s machine.”

I put the paper down and slid off my glasses, rubbing my eyes slightly, shaking my head in utter shock at it. Every time I had slept in that house, it had been in the room they all called the Guest Room, or the Jeff Room, and I had no idea then who “Jeff” had been. Rachel’s Meemaw had seen that I had finished reading the papers, stood and moved to the table, pulling back the burlap to reveal a phonograph, with a cylinder already in place. She walked out of the room momentarily, only to return with the speaker horn for the antiquated machine. She attached it, and said, “don’t you believe for a moment that my husband’s grandfather stole this; Mr. Edison heard what President Davis had to say, and decided it would inflame old passions, and sent it back south with our reporter; and a year later, he sent one of his machines and several cylinders of music as a gift.”

She turned the handle, and I heard the voice of Jefferson Davis.

She reset the machine, and turned the crank again. And another time, so that the recording on the cylinder had played three times. She gestured for me to hand her the envelope and papers, then said “did you understand what he said?”

“Yes, ma’am. It is astonishingly crisp and clear…”

“I did not ask you to describe it. Did you hear what he said? Have you memorized it? Say it back to me.”

When I repeated it, accurately, she took the cylinder off the device, and sat down next to the fire-place, the cylinder and papers in her lap.

I said to her “this, this is unreal. This is amazing. This is a story that ought to be on the news…at the very least, we should tell the people who would appreciate it—the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.”

“You are missing the point child. The important matter isn’t that this recording existed all these years, the important matter is what he said. The news? You of all people ought to know better than that. The way things have gone these last few years, it would be just a chance for the press to smear his good name and call us evil for having it, a pretext for that, and nothing more. The Sons, there are many good, fine decent men, trying to salvage what remains of our story in that organization, present company included, but there are also enough of them who would make this story about whether or not the colored people approve of it, that we won’t be bothering with that route. And as for the Daughters, seventy years I have been a member, supporting the patriotic work of the group, and I say, with utter sadness, the UDC will not long survive, or will be changed. It will die off, or it won’t be long until it is going about pulling down the very monuments it placed. Too many in it have grown quietly ashamed of their forefathers, again on account of how the colored people feel about them, too such an extent that they’ve grown even squeamish and shy of so much as displaying the battle flag in our publication and at our events. No young man, we will not be using this as a great story for the UDC. Besides, none of them will believe you.”

“What do you mean none of them will believe me? There’s the cylinder and the papers fully establishing the provenance of…”

To my spellbound horror, she chucked the papers and cylinder into the fire, as if they had been rubbish, mere trifles, meaningless, naught but trash. I let out a yell and dived towards the fire, but I saw unmistakably that the damage had been done far beyond repair. The papers were already ash, and the cylinder was bending and melting.

“Why…Why in God’s name would you do that?” I managed, through my shock.

“It isn’t your place to invoke the name of God, boy, not since your abandoned the path of preaching the Gospel of Christ. So no more of that. What you are feeling this moment, this instant, of seeing something priceless from the past so casually destroyed, is how I have felt for decades. I have seen the South, which had already been Re-constructed, thoroughly De-constructed. These monuments coming down, child, it’s a wonder they have lasted as long as they have, because you know almost as well as I do that our people have forgotten, and go about quoting Lincoln and Martin Luther King without any bit of self-awareness. I had ten siblings and six children. Rachel and her two cousins are my only grandchildren. Rachel, through no fault of yours, will die surrounded by cats. Dianna is too busy bedding black men for her fun, and frankly, so is Richard. I will have no great-grandchildren. There will be no descendants on this place in less than two generations, when it had been in my husband’s family for over two centuries. That chain is broken. It is broken because this society is broken, broken because our people have eaten lies about themselves, and today judge every moral action not against righteousness as such or by Scripture, but whether or not it will hurt the colored people’s feelings, or the sodomites feelings, or the trespassers feelings. We have kneeled down, we have sold our best crop land for the building of silly little houses, brought in millions of Mexicans to build these silly little houses, and we have drip, by drip, by drip, been invaded, again, from the North. Some adapt, just as they always have, and become us; but in more places than I ever thought possible, they have come in droves, and too many have come, and they have simply erased us, replaced us, and driven us from our familiar haunts. We are fading. I am fading. My family is fading. Your family is fading. All that was built over centuries since the founding first of Virginia, then of Maryland, the Carolinas and Georgia—all of it is being forgotten, erased, and tried and balanced on the feelings of others rather than the accomplishments of our own. And all of it, all of it, will go into the flames every bit as casually as what you just witnessed, tossed in by aliens who don’t care, and our people who either don’t know that they should, or who believe the damned lie that they should care only about the opinions others have of their ancestors rather than whether or not there will still be people who look and sound like them governing their own States two centuries from now if the Lord tarries.”

I just shook my head, and began “but…”

“But nothing. For the last time, do not interrupt me. You heard what President Davis said. You are now the last person living besides me who has heard his voice, and heard those words. I know you saw the news that came out of Durham, I have no doubt of that. And your mother, who you may be surprised to learn has called me once a week all these years, told me you were in Lynchburg this past August, conveniently on the same day of the events of Charlottesville. You can misdirect everyone else all you want, but it isn’t hidden from me. You were either there, or on your way there.”

I looked towards the window, seeing the old oak to the right of the house beginning to cast shadows in our direction. “It’s best that I don’t speak too much about that, but you are not wrong. I was on my way there, and I had no idea that all of those guys were walking right into a trap. It didn’t happen the way the press reported it…”

“And yet you still were willing to suggest that I go to them with this recording? Child, I know they lie. That’s who and what they are, and who and what owns them. And these fools, these fools in the descendants groups, blaming your friends for the fate of these statues. Absurd. We have been on this ride for years, decades, travelling in the direction of extinction, first through the tangible reminders of our past, but you young men were willing to get off your asses and physically defend these icons, which is far more than can be said for so many armchair warriors who seem to think we’ll save ourselves by more reenacting and wooing enough negroes to our banner. No child, I have lived long enough to see this for what it is, and I think you and your friends are beginning to glimpse that. You bear no blame for speeding up the process; you will, however, carry blame if you do not carry the Southern torch onward”, she said, then standing, looking me squarely in eyes, “and no child, I do not mean silly ones that can be bought at Target.”

I stood as well, and followed her back up the dog-trot to the door, back past the faces of the dead, and she placed her hand on the old fashioned knob, saying “General Lee said that duty is the sublimest word in our language, and that none should desire to do any less than his duty. Young man, I expect you to do your duty, and to remember the words you heard today. I expect you to work hard, to get the rest of that weight off and to be alive and useful as long as you can be, because our people need you to be. I charge you to quit pining after my granddaughter. She made her decision. You’re in your thirties now. Go and marry someone ten years younger than you and have as many babies as possible. Live, and defend, cherish, and nourish what’s ours. And by all means, get back to the land, as soon as possible.”

She opened the door, and bid me farewell as I walked out. I was taking it all in as I walked down the steps to my truck, and just as I was climbing into the seat, I heard her say one more thing: “Be at my funeral, when the time comes.”

I drove in silence all the way home, or rather, to what I have been calling home, to my empty bed. As I was about to finally doze off, I checked my phone for the news of the last two days. The City of Memphis had taken down a statue of Jefferson Davis, and one of Nathan Bedford Forrest, made all the more egregious by it being over the grave of the General and his Lady. As was to be expected, there was a video of black men in bowties, speaking incoherent nonsense about how wanton desecration of the grave of a great white Southern man was somehow progress, somehow bound to bring us all together, when in truth, it was nothing more than them celebrating having the power to shit on our people, our story, our heroes, and make a false claim to righteousness in the process. Nearby to me, vandals had toppled the soldier from the Floyd County Confederate Monument high atop Myrtle Hill, in the cemetery of the same name, in Rome.

My next day off, I drove to Rome, to the cemetery, to inspect the damage with my own eyes. I looked upon the work done at the hands of people who I have come to believe would gladly kill me, and heard only in my mind the now gone forever words of Jefferson Davis, as I heard them in the Sittin’ Room:

I am Jefferson Davis, first president of the Confederate States, and to the Southern people of the future, I say you have nothing to be ashamed of. Remember us and honor God, and above all other earthly things, Survive.

-By George McDuffie

One comment