In the Land of Cotton (or Clay)

My family is Southern. I’ve tried and tried to start this story without a declaration, but there you have it; I’m at it again. My family is Southern. They hail from the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, but mostly Georgia and Alabama. I’m sure some slipped into Mississippi and Louisiana along the way, but if they did, they didn’t stay long as they made their way to Texas or they were disowned. Who’s to say? (Yes, there’s a Southern hierarchy and no, we’re not even going to talk about Arkansas.)

In researching my family and chasing down all the branches, twigs and stumps, I found I couldn’t hit the early 1860’s without discovering every able-bodied male – every “great” (from grandfathers to uncles) fought for the South in the Civil War. It would be more challenging for me to find someone between 14-60 who didn’t. I have relatives who were injured at Shiloh after their regiment was nearly cut down to the man, relatives at almost nearly every major engagement, and then a relative who died at Ft. Delaware as a POW. After the war, there was a great who named his son John Wilkes Booth (+ the family last name) and then I see John Wilkes ooth went on to name his own son John Wilkes Booth, Jr. I believe there’s even a III. I guess the song “Let it Go” hadn’t hit the charts then. Needless to say, I cringe a lot when I do my research, and each time I come across the JWB’s anew, I cringe like it was the first time. (Then I announce it to my husband like it’s new news and usually get, “you’ve told me that before”. “Oh? Well, can you believe it? John Wilkes Booth?!?” Then I let time slip by so I can repeat it again.)

With relatives from Atlanta, I’ve grown up with stories like the time the Union soldier approached my great-great grandfather as a boy and asked him about the shoes he was so proud of. My great-great took those shoes off to show him and the union soldier dumped them down a well. Then there was the time that Sherman took over one of our family’s homes and marred the wooden secretary as he wrote out his orders before burning Atlanta. That secretary is still in the family. To the older Atlanta relatives, Gen. Sherman wasn’t just Sharman, he was Sherman and a little spit – like that was his full name. Gen. Sherman Patooey, and you could only mutter or growl it out. I can use scalawag correctly in a sentence. FYI, it’s also followed by a patooey when correctly used. Various members of my family had slaves (just like Ben Affleck’s family only a Sony leak isn’t how you’re finding out, and Henry Lewis Gates, Jr.’s job isn’t on the line because of it – great job there, Ben). I can’t answer to this other than to say it bothers me to the core, because I want to believe my family stood up and said, “this is wrong, this is unjust,” but the truth is they didn’t. They named their kids “John Wilkes Booth.”

But, let me stop here a sec and make the declaration that I’m not Southern, I’m a Texan, and more importantly, I’m a US citizen. Which brings me to this weekend. We have a family cemetery and church out in East Texas; it’s well into the piney woods where the earth becomes a soft red clay. (Not the most ideal earth to bury someone in, but hey… it’s what we got.) Every year, for decades and decades long before I was around, the families have come together over Memorial Day (and Labor Day, but that stopped who knows when) to clean up the graveyard, which used to just be dirt. We’ve got grass now! At these events there’s usually a ceremony of some sort to talk about cemetery business, then there’s sometimes a raising of a flag while music is piped through a tin-y sounding speaker system, there’s often a speech or two (sometimes by the more upstanding family members like that one gal who was a dentist) and then we can get to the real business – the potluck. While it’s a bit amateurish, it has its own charm and it brings us together. I expected this year someone would raise the US flag, we’d recite the Pledge of Allegiance, talk about the upkeep of the grounds and then, you know, get to the food bit. I’d at some point brave the port-a-potty and then swear off of it, trying not to take in any liquids for the remainder of the hot day. (Hey, it’s at least better than the outhouse, which is also available.) You know, the usual Memorial weekend day routine. Then this happened..

The Battle Flag of Northern Virginia, one of the Confederate Flags and most commonly associated with the Confederacy.

..

and that’s when my jaw hit the floor. I was gobsmacked, because “gobsmacked” is the best way to describe my reaction. Oh, Dorothy, we’re out of Kansas, girl. This isn’t the same ol’ Star Spangled Banner, saluting the flag of yore.

The Black Roses (part of the Daughters of the Confederacy) in the Texas heat and humidity (you may have heard we got a little rain recently)

Black Rose bowing to the grave of one of the soldiers.

Now let me back up and say that I think it’s wrong to not honor and recognize Confederate soldiers. They fought, bled and died for what they believed was right at the time. But I can’t deny how uncomfortable I felt nor how that feeling skyrocketed after we were asked to honor the Confederate Flag after we had pledged allegiance to the US flag and the Texas flag (hey, I’m a Crockett). At “now face the confederate flag” my hands dropped to my side and I stared at the reenactor. I’m never saying, “…and undying devotion to the cause for which it stands.” Maybe I’m taking it too seriously (I have that habit, ask my friends; I’m the unfun one), but to me you get into this funny little grey area where you’re pushing treason. Did I mention I’m not Southern, I’m Texan (and that’s only on days when our governor isn’t threatening to secede or you know, openly talking about how we’re all going to be round up into Wal-Mart detention centers). Still, this gal broke into Dixie and started doing a little dance when she picked up the tempo and all of what I see as craziness became “the best cemetery clean-up day ever”. And they did honor the three Confederate veterans with a 21 muzzle loading gun salute who did fight the fight they felt was just.

21 Gun Salute

But holy cow!

A photo, because I just liked him best…

(Complete aside – I posted one of the photos on Facebook with the comment “So, this just happened”  to comment on the surreal nature of the event, and immediately one of my cousins responded with the best line, “OMG. There is grass.”  Which is truly one of the craziest things to be seen in the photo and made me burst out with laughter.)

3 thoughts on “In the Land of Cotton (or Clay)

  1. You know it’s been a wet year when there’s grass in an East Texas cemetery.
    It is history. ( and we too have some family stories about the ugly union reoccupation and carpetbaggers). Not going to pretend it didn’t happen and that these men weren’t brave to fight for what they believed (and it wasn’t all about slavery)
    But gobsmacked indeed. Never seen such.

    • Beth says:

      I think what really stunned me (right after I saw the signage for the Sons of the Confederacy, and then saw them raise the Confederate flag, and then…) were the re-enactors in the black dresses. What is normally a fairly bland event became surreal. I did get a cute picture of one of them throwing back her veil to let in some; it was so muggy – steamy from all the rains. She had a huge smile on her face once she was finally able to breathe again.

      Loved the guide to Houston! When I finally got back to town after all of this and returned to work yesterday, I found out a tornado (or very strong winds) had touched down near the office. Several large trees in our parking lot had been ripped up and tossed on their sides. What a crazy weekend. What crazy weather. (But on the plus side one of our lakes went from 30 something percent full to 50 something percent.) The ground just needs a breather before the next round of rain.

      On Tue, May 26, 2015 at 8:15 PM, The Big Blue Mess wrote:

      >

      • Those long dark veils ( to quote a song) now that’s dedication in all this heat. So glad you saw the whole thing….real street performance. Your cemetery is bigger and spiffier than the one we used to clean once a year – it’s small and well hidden in those woods.
        It is nuts this spring. A few days ago a tornado wiped out 3 apt buildings and damaged 10 others in the complex in middle of SW Houston. Now all this flooding ( and it’s storming/pouring now) Hear uhaul trucks and storage units are in very short supply. But hard to complain if the lakes are filling. Simple correction by nature. Stay safe

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