As we roll into Independence Day 2015, America is divided. Of course astute students of history will note America is always divided. And not just in two parts. This country is populated by an almost unimaginably diverse citizenry hailing from every corner of the world. And yes, I am aware the world is round and has not corners.
This year is unique, however. At least it’s unique in terms of the last half century. The Supreme Court has handed down an important ruling on the issue of what is allowable as a marriage in our nation. Secondarily, yet of no less importance is the sudden virulent backlash against a historic symbol of the south – the Confederate Stars and Bars.
As Bob Dylan noted in such timeless fashion, the time’s they are a’changin’. Of course, they always are. They always have been. Change is the natural order, no matter how hard we might try to stop it – change will come. Change always comes.
This series of events brings me back to an internal struggle I’ve wrestled with for many years. You see, my family is of southern heritage. We were at one time wealthy land owners in South Carolina, and yes, my family owned slaves. A great many slaves, it seems. A fact that was denied for many, many years.
With that historical basis in fact, I have begun to sketch out a story that delves into the very real hurt and anguish of slavery’s legacy. A pain that still lingers today on both sides of the color line. It may be unpleasant, but it is is a fact that black men and women in this country share the same last name I do – although for entirely different reasons. So let’s consider that. Let’s examine it. Perhaps in the process we can humanize it, de-claw the tiger so to speak. For no matter what we do today, it cannot change what has occurred in the past. However, we can chose a path for today that can raise us all up and improve our condition in the future. If we do, it will be a conscious choice. This will not happen quickly or easily. But it might come to pass, if we choose to confront who we are and recognize that we are not beholden to those who came before us, in the least.
A brief snippet of the story is as follows;
The Ghost of Tom Ashe
by Jamie Beckett
The Lexus rolled to a stop on the soft sandy soil. Twenty yards ahead the old house stood at the summit of a small rise, gaunt and broken, like a ghostly remnant of a bygone era. Which is exactly what it was.
“This as is close as we can get,” her husband muttered softly. “There’s no driveway.” Long silent spaces separated his words. “It was built in the horse and buggy days, before driveways were common.”
Tom Ashe was a big man. More than six feet tall, his weight hovered between two-hundred-twenty-five and two-hundred-thirty pounds. At one time he inhabited a frame of finely honed muscle. Now, on the far side of fifty years old, his waist was growing wider as gravity and age caused his shoulders to slump slightly. The long drive to make one last visit to his family’s homestead only seemed to weaken and age him further.
His short thick hair and carefully styled goatee were becoming increasingly white with each passing year. His face was noble and strong, befitting his position as a judge and pillar of his community, yet his skin was deeply lined, giving the weathered appearance of a man who had spent years in the fields. In his younger years he’d done just that. Chopping cotton, working in his grandmother’s garden, and tending to the family’s livestock. Until the barn burned down one dark, terrifying night. He was fifteen that summer. His small fractured family lost their barn, the livestock, and their last shred of hope that night. His grandmother never recovered from the loss.
As he gazed through the bug splattered windshield, up the small hill to where the house stood with peeling paint and broken windows,overgrown by a mass of unkempt kudzu, Tom Ashe succumbed to the moment at hand.
A deep, unmistakable sadness fell over her husband’s eyes, darkening his expression. Victoria witnessed the transformation, as if the weight of a forgotten life and the darkness of an evil deed had fallen over him. From less than a foot away, she realized they’d been wrong to come for this last visit. They should have let the bulldozers roam freely over the hilltop, digging up the soil, bringing down the house, and erasing every trace of the nightmare that originated here. She realized in that moment Tom wasn’t free of the pain of his youth at all. What happened here was still burned into his memory. Into his soul.
“We don’t have to do this,” she whispered gently. “There’s nothing here to save.”
Tom sighed deeply. “Yes, we do,” he replied in a somber tone. “I do.”
To be continued…