The Rose of Montgomery

Bonjour! Hola! Lei ho! Shalom! Moin moin!

 

The Ground of My Heart is now being viewed in over 40 countries. Thank you for taking me around the world.

 

When I was younger, around six or so, my grandmother drove me to a multitude of places. Places like KFC and other fast food spots, the grocery store which was called Piggly Wiggly, and to her hairdresser’s house. We started most trips with her turning on the air conditioner, and me asking for it to be turned off so that we could have fresh air flow into the car. When we got up to a faster speed and I thought she wasn’t paying attention I’d stick my hand out of the window to let it “surf”, and then she’d tell me to “Bring it back inside before it gets chopped off by a mailbox.” For years– years!– I thought that those red handles on the sides of mailboxes that are used for signaling when you have mail, were actually splatters of blood from children who’d had their hands chopped off when they stuck them out of windows.

Last week I let my window down, and I put my hand as far out as I could to my left, with my right hand steadily gripping thesteering wheel. And then I pulled it right back in. I was home, in Alabama. And some things just don’t change.

I’m back in New York. The rain is gone. I didn’t feel quite like myself before I left, or while I was away in Alabama, but at this exact moment I feel so much like me that I’m tempted to stay in this exact position for the rest of the night. The only problem with doing so is that I won’t get to cut and wash the large amount of vegetables that I bought or attempt to straighten this thick, unruly hair for almost two hours, and you know I’m just itching to do such things. And by itching I mean that I’m not, and that days like today weren’t meant for being outside to enjoy the beautiful sky and cool air. They were meant for wearing the ugliest pair of terry cloth pants from the Gap that you own, and getting little accomplished (said the girl who woke up his morning thinking, “Lord, I’m going to get so much done today.”)

If the only thing I do is unpack my suitcase, I’ll be thrilled with myself. I don’t break away from a schedule often enough to be good at getting back into the swing of things. In fact, I’m rather slow to do so. And that’s why I clean both ends of my apartment, literally scrubbing underneath the bed, to make sure that it is absolutely spotless when I come home. I stay up until 3:00am throwing out old food, eating the rest of the food that I feel too guilty to throw away, and windexing mirrors and counter-tops. If I left my small, crudely decorated bedroom in shambles I honestly think it would take me months to recover.

So naturally I arrived in Birmingham, Alabama feeling tired. I lifted a forty-five pound suitcase into the trunk of a Honda, and let Brandon’s aunt drive us to their neighborhood that looks out over a highway, and beyond that to hills that are dotted with little lights. And what a highway it is. It’s so beautiful when you’ve become accustomed to subways and buses, and being at the mercy of a silent majority called the MTA. Those drivers, those little masters of the universe zipped by faster than my eye could follow as I ascended the ramp up to his mother’s house, my heart beating very fast because I was moments away from seeing people who are supposed to be family, but legally haven’t become so just yet.

As usual, Brandon’s grandmother told me again and again how beautiful I looked, even describing me as “The Rose of Montgomery”, while his mother stood next to the stove frying chicken for us. The evening news was on. I’ve never seen anything other than the news on television in their house. It confirms that I belong there. I’m so grateful that I’m inheriting a set of in-laws who are also secretly obsessed with Brian Williams and CNN, and I’m happy about that even if we have nothing else in common. There’s such a vast difference in the way I think about things, and the way they do. They think:

That anyone who willingly chooses to live in New York must be insane. – That includes us.

That vegetables are optional on a plate. – And they’re not.

That Obama is the answer to all of this country’s problems. – And I don’t.

I’m certainly not encouraging anyone to vote for old Mittens Romney, the name 16% of this nation actually believes he was born with. No, Mitt, would indeed privatize far too much of our nation’s work force and he doesn’t win any ground with his views on foreign policy. He does, however, have a few valid points on some unimportant topics, and I tried to say that in a calm manner, but soon enough me, the grandma, and the mother were all talking in loud voices about the future of the country. The fact that I’d even dared to consider a candidate other than Obama almost got me tossed out on my butt that night, and when I said it to my own family later in the week they replied with, “When does your flight leave?”

I hadn’t traveled all that way to be argumentative, so I conceded. Or perhaps it was Brandon who conceded for me and for all of us by picking up the remote and announcing that the discussion was over.

The next day Brandon and I filled the gas tank, and headed even further south to what feels like the tiniest town in the world, Tuskegee. How can one place be world-famous and not have a library? I just wonder aloud, I don’t say it to be critical. I love Tuskegee, and I love being from a place that can only offer cow pastures and an occasional house to look at while you drive into the heart of the town. It’s the country. And I’m country strong.

I called ahead to my grandfather’s caretaker to let her know that we were coming to surprise him. She greeted us so warmly, and lead us back to my grandfather who was propped up in an arm-chair in the living room, watching a very new and very nice television. At 96 years old he still looks great. Maybe he doesn’t stand as straight as he once did, but he has a nobility about him that says, “Yes, I was a doctor. And a good one.” He lit up at seeing me, and I dove to my knees so I could bury my head in his lap and weep. Even now, I am moved with emotion. There’s nothing about his demeanor that indicates he’ll die soon, but you never know with these old people. They’re tricky. So I wept, and then I answered all of his questions over and over and over again. “We live in New York. Yes, we like it. I’m getting married in April. In New York. Yes, we like it.” It went that way for an hour. And I ended it by taking a picture that will be so priceless to me some day.

I looked down at my lap for a quick moment and thought, “If Brandon isn’t watching us so that he can help me remember what my grandfather was like and share those stories with our five children I’ll be so, so mad.” But he was. He was taking big bites of chicken and just watching us with a pleasant smile on his face. And I know the smile was more for the chicken than it was for any sentimentality he may have felt, but it was enough.

We then drove to another small town, this one called Auburn, where our collegiate rivals are housed. He cursed our rivals and got fired up about the upcoming football season. Every bit of New York suddenly drained out of him, and he became a man who can’t fathom that anything beyond football might be considered relevant.

By the time we pulled up to the hotel I had at least three text messages from my cousins, who were either texting to say they were en route or ready to start drinking. It was evening by then, and we were taking a dinner boat cruise for our first night of the reunion. Close to 150 people gathered together from all over the country for a bi-annual homecoming that is worthy of the time and money you lose, and the weight you gain. We filled two decks of the Harriet II, and ate food that you wouldn’t be happy about unless you were too distracted by a good time. Which we were. All of us. The young ran up and down stairs, the old coolly propped themselves up against banisters.

Harrisons are not humble people. We’re hard workers, but usually not humble about the results that the hard work produces. So much in fact that it was mentioned several times to me how many lawyers, doctors, and in general successful people we have in one family. Alduan never has to remind people that he’s a CNN analyst because one of my aunts will always do it for him.

My cousin Nina turned to me at one point during the weekend and said, “What about me?” “What about you?” I asked her.

“I pay my rent. My lights are on!”, she answered. “Aren’t I successful too?” 

“Yeah you are! And you’re in law school too,” I reminded her. The theme of what constitutes as successful returned when one of my aunts– we have a lot of aunts ok?– turned to me and said, “So Jasmine, what are you working on these days? Or, what are you workings towards?” She knows I have a very good job and am the type to do well, but the way she enunciated the ‘s’ at the end of the word “towards” let me know that she expected me to have a very educated answer, and not to wind up anything like my cousin who was in the corner of the room with half his shirt on.

It was a conversation that I didn’t feel like getting into at that moment because there were too many people listening. I think it’s the most difficult question to answer because it’s one that I can’t back up with a degree. Nor do I sound very confident, because I don’t know how to explain that although I keep missing the mark in my own personal life in so many different ways, all I want to do is talk about God and how He loves us too much to let us keep missing the mark. How we can be better with Him at the helm of our lives. And I want more than anything to show other people that you’re not the only one who:

Messes up.

Vows not to have sex until mariage, but there was that one time you let him put his hand up your shirt.

Wants to find creative ways to express yourself when mad, but sometimes drops a bomb.

Yells at your spouse because you can’t remember what the relationship book said to do in this situation.

Finds forgiving your crazy relatives a tad bit hard to do when it isn’t your fault.

And so on.

And to tell all of them that when things like that happen you don’t look down on yourself, you look up at God because He is the most forgiving, wonderful God who can enable you to be better.

I just want to have a book already written, and a ministry already launched, and the time to tell people how much I’ve gotten wrong in the past, but here’s the one thing (and I’d hold up a bright pink Bible) that I did right. And then show them all the colors that the Bible is available in.

And to hug all of those people, and be Facebook friends with them. 

Part II will be up soon. With pictures. Just as soon as I find the camera battery.

 

 

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