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   WHO AM I   

I am a mother, teacher, traveler, learner, and seeker. I've spent the past several years finding adventures in unexpected places, even the ones I rushed to leave. And so, I return and leave again with fresh perspectives and appreciation of all that I experience and all that add to my being on the planet.  I seek to see the old places of my youth with new eyes. But I also seek new paths, new places, new stories, new people and  to learn in every adventure--be they big or small. And I invite you to join me in my seeking--wherever it may take me. And one of my first stops, is home.

Juke Joints and Jesus

I grew up in the late seventies and early eighties in rural South Carolina in and around juke joints and churches.  These were the institutions of my youth. The churches were shot-gun clapboard contraptions sitting off dirt roads, and the juke joints innocuous gems hidden in plain sight and populated with literal juke boxes that played a tune for a quarter.  Country stores like Gamble's Grill and Bea’s Store (Bea Sto’) sold Red Rock sodas and pin-wheel cookies during the weekdays. They served as my informal classrooms. I  learned to play Spades, shoot pool, and trash talk with my cousins and friends who lived in walking distance. At dusk and on the weekends, these little hole-in-the-walls transfixed into new beings—breathing, living, and filled with soul.

When those times came, my cousin and I would peek from behind my auntie’s skirts as she served up drinks and watch grown folks get tipsy, dance, fight, and make up by the night’s end. Establishments like the Shack-a-delic Shack, my Aunt Irene and Uncle Albert’s place, which was attached to their home and separated by a kitchen and ten-foot long bar, and Gamble’s Grill, which was situated right on Highway 261, were often  gambling dens—where soul music was played, and bar-b-que or fried chicken/fish sandwiches and unlicensed pints of liquor in brown bags and red Solo cups were offered up like libations to the ancestors in thanks of surviving the week. 

 

And on Sundays—Sundays they asked for forgiveness for their sins and strength to make it through the upcoming week. These churches may or may not have had stained glass windows but were often built by the hands of church elders who brought with them expertise in masonry, carpentry, and electrical and plumbing, and led by men who may or may not have gone to seminary. Such was and is in some places in South Carolina.

 

Though Gamble’s Grill, the Shack, Bea Sto’, and the first church I can remember attending are all long gone—with very little to remind a passerby that they existed—places like them are still peppered throughout the South.  Little did I know that my experience was in a long tradition of worshipping and merry-making, and that this tradition was special and had value bigger than in my small corner of the rural South.  

As a teacher of American and African American literature, and as student in Global Studies, I see the space that the vernacular has in telling the story of a region’s culture and people. I can see the ways in which the stories told about the human experience are poetic and literary in themselves.  I can also see the ways in which  some of our stories are in danger of disappearing and becoming bastardized if not recorded for posterity—particularly by and for the community itself.  And so, I do my little part in their preservation.

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