I ascended to adulthood in the south, in a small dugout
carved from red clay. When you ask someone what their conception of the south is, you never hear them talk about the south you know. They always say something akin to moonlight and magnolias
, the myth of death my 'pa use to call it. Pa fought under General Pickett
under General Longstreet
under General Lee
in the dispute between the states.
He was young once but he was an old man by the time I was born. About 30 years of age and counting off the years with a knife
he would carve into a picket
fence, like he was countin' off the days before he would ascend from hell into heaven
. To him, my birth was a burden. A practical death sentence that would lock my family into the serfdom of the south
. My father worked hard every day for no profit and was of little use to society, or so he said. All he did, by his account, was drop seeds into the earth, make it into cotton, and then give it to Mr. Freeland. "The Furnishin' man." Or, as the black people off the piedmont
called such men, "The man."
land hated my father and would threaten him. And not in a mean sort of way either. It was the sort of threat that was a promise. A contractual obligation
that my father would work in a chain gang
if he didn't make enough cotton. It wasn't so much that he hated my father specifically either, I think he just hated people. Well, my people. Poor people.
One day my father made me a nice coat out of stolen cotton. The very cotton
he had grown himself which he stole, from himself, and had turned into a coat in one of them factories down in Atlanta
. I never understood the process too well myself, but it was a big coat. As close to summer as you could get in the brutal winter that no northerner understands, being acclimated to the cold at all times. Being a frail child who didn't get much to eat I found the coat to be very heavy. Sometimes I would leave the coat off and having become accustomed to the warmth which that burden brought, I was brutally cold with it off. My attachment
to that object, however, became so great that I would wear it even in the oppressive
heat of the summer. Unable to sleep without that burden when I was eighteen I came to understand my father.
I was a burden
to my father, like my coat to me. And thinkin' on this, I came to understand Mr. Freeland, who had no burden and was thus a cold man. And thinkin' on this, I came to understand the war
my father fought and the war some people would say his proverbial
brother fought. And I thought, his real brothers all fought and died for the lost cause, that great southern empire
which never was nor ever could be, because attatchment to a cause, to a coat, is a burden. And I came to understand why the war was so long and so bloody, because the north never really did come to have a burden until they bore the bodies of their own and the banner of what they thought this country north and south should stand for. And I know i'm in the wrong livin' where I do but I think I understand now and I think I do so correctly. Because without this damn coat i'm cold, and empty, and without my hopes and dreams i'm cold and empty, and without my family i'm cold, empty and probably drunk. And being leaned on isn't so bad when you love that which leans on you, because sometimes you need to have somethin' to carry, sort of like a gift, before you're comfortable goin' on up to Jesus, or walkin' down the street, or getting out of bed in the morning. And maybe one day i'll take off this damn coat, but not until I have a better one.