Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added)
is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.
--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Friday, February 29, 2008

Gardenias for Kate Deriso

The Pot Boy has not yet moved from the fire. If you have a question, leave it in the question box, one post below… When he moves, all will be answered!

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Today is the birthday of my paternal grandmother, Kate Deriso Youmans of Lexsy, Georgia. In the past decade I’ve heard that her grandparents owned much of Treutlen County and were big slave-owners. Evidently they lost everything after the Civil War and were pitiful and often starved in their old age. I found the idea that they had been owners of land and slaves very startling because I had long connected my grandma's past history with the sort of plow-mule poverty that features in James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and the accompanying photographs by Walker Evans. The shack at Lexsy was crowded with flowers and trees and a great shining hedge that shaded the porch; it is a primary place in my imagination, a place out of time—the sort of place where people do the same things in the same way for hundreds of years.



Kate Deriso Youmans was a Primitive Baptist who lived hard and close to the bone; she was a sharecropper in the Depression and for most of her life, and she could make fried chicken and cakes and pies like nobody's business. At the farm, we would go out on adventures to gather food, crossing a stream to collect the wild sweet plums, yellow and clear red, or toting buckets for berries. My grandmother carried a cudgel against cottonmouths and rattlesnakes from the swamps. It seemed to be that she was always busy shelling lady peas or canning peaches or capping blackberries, her arthritic fingers never at rest. Her table was always a bumper crop.

She gave birth to six children. In her youth, she was called "Little Bear" because she was willing to defend them with her fists if she had to do so. Willie, a little boy nicknamed “Peter Rabbit,” died of meningitis in the wagon on the way to the doctor. The others grew up and became what they became. My daddy became tailgunner and a chemist and then a Professor of analytical chemistry. He is dead, and she is dead, and the world is still spinning and flowering and burning and needing all the things that it needs so desperately.

In speaking of her, I have limited what she is. She rode wagons under the stars, she pushed children from her body, she buried a child, she plowed a mule and labored in the hot Georgia sun, she did infinite things I do not know. Widen all that I have said by a thousand miles on foot and add a million over-heated suns, and you and I might get an inkling of what that life was like.

Credit for photographs: The gardenias are courtesy of "xymoneau" or Dez Pain of Australia and www.sxc.hu/. I believe I've used some of xymoneau's images before...







***

Here is how my day is going:

Hokay,

I start out the outer-world part of my day by running two blocks to the bus-stop to hand R the forgotten dowel for her dratted art project: all this dressed in my bathrobe, tucked under a long coat. The thermometer says 10 below zero--dunno if I believe it, but it's cold. Fine. Done. Can sit down and work on the FAFSA form at last.

Phone rings at 8:15.

"Hi Mom."

"Hi B. What did you forget?"

"My backpack."

Oh, only a two thousand pound backpack... Only a thing as big as a small icehouse that straps to one's backside. Only every single book and notebook and pencil needed to attend high school.

Sigh.

The wackiness never ends.

15 comments:

  1. It does end, though. Believe it or not, there comes a day (and it happens sooner rather than later), they'll be gone. I loved having my house FULL of children, then teenagers, then college kids. Now I love having it full of young grownups and one baby and one on the way! It isn't every day that they're here, but it is more often than I dared hope. Your portrait of your paternal grandmother is stunning. Good luck with FAFSA and so on.

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  2. Yes, it was painfully quiet last week while B was in North Carolina, looking at schools... And I'm toting him over to the other side of the state to look at another soon.

    What do you mean, another baby! Who, what, how?

    Shall go investigate, pronto.

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  3. Very moving portryal of your grandmother and her life. Strong women come from strong women.

    Laura is right, it ends all too soon. Mine are farther away than I had hoped although still in the state but with gas prices...

    Where in NC is B looking? More toward your old stomping grounds? That would be lovely for you.

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  4. By the way, I demand answers to my questions oh Pot Boy!

    I really want to know, please think up bright and witty answers and answer us soon.

    Marly, tell N. that I heard the ghost at the coffeehouse a little, but my friend Deb claims she heard footsteps and much rolling around.

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  5. Yes, several schools near my mother in the mountains. The two of us are running over to SUNY-Fredonia next, as he has been admitted there.

    Interesting to compare how boys and girls go about all this.

    I'll be by soon--am in the middle of some looooong forms.

    Did you apply to go back to NCCAT? I got a note from Linda, talking about how busy they are since adding the Ocracoke site.

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  6. Thank you for the glimpse of your grandmother, and your childhood adventures.

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  7. A beautiful tribute, magical.

    I like the contrast with your own hectic, creative, colourful life!

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  8. Your portrait of your grandmother is so moving. It's so many unsung women like her that kept/keeps this world from totally falling apart due to the self-serving agendas of the majority of our so-called "leaders." Bless Her, and you.

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  9. susanna, lucy, jarvenpa, zephyr--

    Thanks for popping by for a walk with Grandma Kate--I'm glad she pleased you.

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  10. Didn't apply yet. Alums couldn't even apply until March 1st to NCCAT.

    Also am applying for a watercolor scholarship. If I get that, it will be for a week in Boone, and I will forgo NCCAT this time round, until next year.

    I also may teach summer school for two weeks this summer. So it will be a busy one.

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  11. Watercolors is Boone sounds good, and after all there's a limit--or supposed to be (not that you could tell from some in our class)--to NCCAT residencies. So you could just save that for later...

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  12. I have posted some English spring flowers on my Dorset blog for you Marley; you asked if it was Spring here yet.

    We a prunning roses at the moment! They are budding maddly. The Camelias are not doing well this year.

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  13. Wonderful pictures and a very moving profile of your grandmother. Coincidentally, I was thinking about family too today and wrote it up. My pictures, being inept and self-taken, were not one bit as nice though.

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  14. I could take pictures and download them and so forth, but I am too lazy. I call it "too busy." You pick!

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.