08 May 2013

Long Haul Into the New Day

Henry Mosler, attributed (1841–1920)
The Lost Cause
Oil on canvas
19¾ x 26 13/16 inches 
I have been mostly bedridden for three days. Some kind of allergic reaction to Spring or a bad cold. Mustering every ounce of strength, I went out yesterday to vote and to pick up a few more gallons of juice. The weather was warm and light-flooded. The scene at the fire station -- the traditional site for mayoral and aldermanic elections here -- reminded me of New Orleans Jazz Fest, minus the music. A crowd of Holly Springs residents as large as lined the streets for last Fall's Founder's Day parade, most of them carrying signs for their candidate of choice and calling out encouragements and persuasions to arriving voters. Such energy and enthusiasm! I wondered if they were getting paid for their efforts.

Lots of people lounged in lawn furniture with beverages. I spotted two grills, smoking. It was a lively, milling crowd and the air rang with a muscular happiness I have not witnessed here:  people calling out to neighbors and friends, laughter, excitement....  After two days alone, there was something surreal about the experience for me. I was walking through a dream.

"It's voting day!" a man shouted at me as I got out of my car. "Yes, I know. That's why I'm here," I responded. He was holding a "Kelvin Buck for Mayor" sign and pointed to it and smiled. "Don't forget!" he cried and then, visibly having a second thought, he crossed the street to speak with me. "You gotta vote for Kelvin. And then don't forget about Liddy and Mark Miller. We gotta get these white folks in here so we can get something done!" "Well, I'm a Buck supporter and I like those guys, too, but it's not about skin color for me...." I told him. As I walked away, "OK. OK now. Stop and talk to me when you come out."

Kelvin Buck was standing at the entrance talking earnestly with an older woman. I gave him a quick hug and whispered "Good luck!" as I passed. When I exited the building after voting, he was nowhere in sight but the incumbent, Andre DeBerry was mingling in a small group just east of the entrance. I raised my hand to wave but he didn't wave back. Maybe he didn't see me....

"Hey, Mercedes!" a voice rang out. I turned to see Anthony sitting on the passenger side of the cab of a huge white pick-up truck. I'd met him a few weeks ago outside the post office and had an uncommonly riveting conversation for three quarters of an hour. I smiled and approached the truck. "Hey! How are ya?" I greeted him. "I saw you on TV the other night at the debate," he said. "Girl, you're good for Holly Springs. You gotta keep asking those questions and pushing these folks."

"Anthony, I'm just out of bed to vote today. This town is wearing me out. All the pushing. All the taking a stand. Day after day...."  

"Yeah, but you gotta keep going. New day is coming to Holly Springs." A woman approached from the other side of the truck, calling out his name. He is a good-looking man, the type I'm sure is the focus of lots of female attention here. "I'll catch you later," I said and returned to my car.

At the grocery store, the public school superintendent stood in the entrance way with the owner and two other people -- one with a camera and the other with a microphone. It was another surreal scene: I had run into her last weekend at the gallery opening and asked her prediction about the school bond referendum. "Well, I feel pretty good about it but some folks just will never change their mind." I asked what she knew about the basis for the opposition's disapproval. "I don't understand it. Our people say the site is too far away from downtown to do the merchants any good. And of course They won't vote for it since their kids already have a nice school," she'd told me. By "they" she meant "white" residents....of course. On this day, as  I watched her smiling and speaking animatedly with three "white" men, I felt a little dizzy. 

I am learning but the height and severity of "the curve" is vertiginous.

Later in the afternoon, back at home in bed with a book, I heard a vehicle pull into the driveway. It was B____, another handsome Holly Springs man. He'd done some yard work for me a few weeks ago (I was away that day and returned to discover he had done a beautiful job of cutting down the plants I liked in the front part of the property and a lousy job of clearing the wild back-backyard) and I guessed he was there to collect his pay.

I was wrong. He said he was stopping by because he was in the neighborhood on another errand. I invited him in. Weather. The election. The coffeehouse. Small talk. As we ran out of things to talk about, I took him outside and showed him where I would soon install a trellis for the wisteria, and asked if he had any handyman recommendations on how to do the job. We talked trellis and plants for a few minutes. 

I remembered I'd stopped at the ATM over the weekend and likely had enough cash on hand to pay him. When I returned to the porch with the money he thanked me and asked "So what do you do on the weekend?" I told him I had no social life in Holly Springs....which led to some chat about social life in Holly Springs. "Social life mostly happens at church here, as best I can determine," I said. "And I'm not a church goer." He told me he goes to church but that doesn't mean he can't have a drink...an interesting non sequitur he'd also employed in our last conversation. "And most these people who say they don't drink, really do drink..." "Yes," I said. "It's a familiar hypocrisy. I was raised in the church so I know something about religious hypocrisy. It gives a town a sneaky kind of feeling that I don't like at all."

"'Course, it's mostly white people doing that stuff," he reminded me. 

According to the sign on the firehouse door, the polls closed at 7. I'd heard there would be a victory party at Annie's if Buck won but I didn't have the heart or the energy to get dressed and drive over. A little after 7, I began to search online for news of the election results for Holly Springs and found nothing. Miraculously, though the radio signal was as scratchy and inconsistent as usual, I was able to catch snippets within the static indicating Buck had defeated DeBerry. Good news. A new dawn in Holly Springs.

B____'s question about what do I do on the weekend haunted me for the rest of the day. By this morning the contemplation had evolved into a determination that it's time for a new day for Ms. Alex. All this pushing and taking a stand in Holly Springs has taken its toll. The relentless confrontation of race-based thinking has taken its toll. The frustrating convention of "no follow through" that seems to define this place has taken its toll. This morning, my Artist self shook me awake at 7 and screamed "I've had enough!"

True to form, I've been a dog with a bone here:  clamped down and hanging on. I WILL learn how to live here. I WILL wake this town up, using it's own language and methodology. I WILL be a part of Revitalization. I WILL NOT give up.

I have a long history of committing to lost causes. 

Time to shift focus, to adjust course (again). The work here will continue (not ready to declare Holly Springs a "lost cause") AND it's time to refuel. Without exception, in every interaction where my artistic interests are revealed, I'm asked "Have you checked out Oxford? Memphis?" OK. I get it. Those are the nearest fueling stations. I'm on my way....