I have officially run out of story ideas. A friend of mine has encouraged me to submit work to the Southern Women‘s Review, and as the deadline approaches, I find myself creatively crippled.
I am a Southern woman, born in the South, raised in the South, and after a few years in the not-South, we have settled down in my motherland and will raise our children in the South. Anything I write, then, is fair game for this journal: “Submissions should be from women who were born in or grew up in the U.S. South; currently live in the U.S. South; or write about the U.S. South.”
But that’s not enough for me, to be a born and bred Southerner and to currently live in the U.S. South. I feel like I should write about the South, about how I never felt like I fit in as a Southerner growing up (I didn’t like sweet tea, for one), but when I moved away and folks sincerely thought the South was like Deliverance, that if they stopped their cars in the southeast they’d risk violent rape by toothless bumpkins, I defended my home against their ignorance and developed a fierce pride for my region. Or I could write about how I didn’t understand the South for so many years of my young life – Southern pride, the clinging to Dixie flags, the continued obsession with the “War between the states” – and how Gone with the Wind (the book, not the movie) explained my heritage and helped me understand Southern culture better than any history class ever could. Or maybe I should write about my experiences as a Southern woman who explored other regions, who has lived in other parts of the country and loved them, but how it still feels like a homecoming to move back to Virginia, even though I’ve never lived here.
Or maybe, I could write about my childhood in the South. About my Grandaddy and Nannie’s farm in Eatonton, Georgia. Where we dug worms from the wet soil of the creek bank, in the shade, by the old mill on their farm, then threaded them, still squirming, on our hooks to catch yellow-bellies in Crooked Creek. Where a trip to the hardware store with Grandaddy, in his old silver Ford pick-up truck with a shiny black steering wheel knob and the shifter on the steering column, was the highlight of our visit when we’d stay a whole week. Where we dug potatoes, and planted carrots in neat rows, and shucked corn and snapped peas under the walnut tree by the tractor shed. Where in the morning I’d say, “Wait Grandaddy! I’m coming with you,” while I hurried to put on my Nannie’s boots to walk through the dewy grass, past the scuppernong vine, and the gourd birdhouses, and the peach orchard, to the compost pile behind the barn. Where Nannie had a plaque on the wall that said “The only way to kill time is to get busy and work it to death.” Nannie, who’d grin and say “Scat!” when we’d sneeze, or “Skin the cat,” when my brother would peel off his sweaty shirt from working in the stagnant middle-Georgia heat. Nannie who worked crossword puzzles, and made cornbread stuffing, and raised three kids while Grandaddy flew bombers in the wars.
Or my mind goes back to Grandma and Grandpa’s house on 6th Street, East Beach, St. Simons Island, Georgia. Grandma with her pretty pastel pillow mints in a crystal dish on the sideboard, with the $2 she left under our pillows when we’d visit, with bottles of Rolaids on every end table, between all the couch cushions, tucked in the cushions of each chartreuse chair, where nowadays someone’s cell phone would fall, and get lost, and be found when the chair suddenly vibrates under someone’s bottom, surprising them so that their eyebrows shoot up and their mouth forms an “O.” Grandma, who introduced me to A Clockwork Orange, her favorite vinyl record, with that strange and wonderful white cover, with a man in a bowler hat and one set of false eyelashes who smiled an enigmatic smile as he emerged, dagger in hand, from a black triangle. Grandma who taught me how to brush my teeth with my finger when I forgot my toothbrush, who had a rosebush by her front door, and who’d give me scissors and a vase when I asked if I could cut pink roses for her. Grandma, who said “You all” instead of “y’all” in her sophisticated, old money, soft Southern drawl.
And Grandpa in his seersucker suit, quiet, always smiling, who’d disappear to his room upstairs, full of light and warm salty air, with a clear view of the dunes, and the wide tan beach, and the distant sound of waves swishing over sand. Grandpa who had a podium up there, with the biggest dictionary you ever saw, and an old black and white TV with a rabbit ear antenna and a knob that you turned with a satisfying click to change the channel. And Grandpa’d come back down with a handheld wooden maze where you’d have to deliver the tiny silver bead from one end to a hole in the other. Or with a wooden puzzle cube that we’d pull apart and spend hours trying to put back together. Grandpa, a career diplomat, who earned his law degree after his three sons had grown up and moved away, who was scorned as a young man by Grandma’s parents (for being poor) until he started working for the State Department, when his now proud mother-in-law began submitting his and Grandma’s travels to the Atlanta Journal’s Society pages. Grandpa, who loved Heavenly Hash ice cream, who smiled and waved at us, the grandkids coloring quietly on the green shag carpet, during the evening hours when Grandma would settle in with her gin and milk to talk politics with her sons and their wives.
But those are just descriptors, right? Childhood memories of an aging Southern woman who has returned to the South. There’s no plot. There’s no story there. So here I sit, wondering what I will write.
“Writer’s Block” originally appeared in volume 6 of Southern Women’s Review (January 2013).