I grew up in a place call Dalzell, SC. I thought that growing up in the south as a black child could not possibly be the most pleasant place to live. Of course there was truly racism around me, discrimination and lack of a quality education. I could only play with my one white friend outside, where our mothers could keep an eye on us. The day my mother responded to my white friend with a “yes m’am”, I went numb. I did not want to play with my white friend anymore and come to think of it, my white friend did not ask me why. Yes, after experiencing that kind of trauma, you would think that growing up in a place call Dalzell, SC was mostly unpleasant, but it was not. This was a place of dreams and laughter; a place of joy and celebration of community.
On Sundays, I remember everyone gathering on the church lawn to eat the meal the women had prepared the night before. If there was a worship service after church, you would smell the fried chicken and cornbread that was wrapped in aluminum foil in the trunk of someone’s car. I don’t know to this day how those women kept the potato salad from not spoiling sitting in the back of someone’s car trunk while we wait for a two hour worship service to end. The tables were dressed with checkered red and white table cloths, the plastic ones, because they were easier to keep clean. The food spread out on the table, with the watermelon slices at the end so that the children would not grab first. And of course, let us not forget about the Kool-Aid with all the flavors mixed together with five pounds of sugar added. My mother’s pound cake was to die for! The children played, the adults gossiped. It was community.
On Sundays where there were no afternoon worship services, we gathered on our front porches. Waved at everyone that past by even if we did not know their names. It was a time where the older women taught the younger women how to shell beans and peas, how to prepare collards by dusting them off, looking for the small worms, so that they can be cleaned to go into the freezer for next Sunday’s dinner. The real reason, sitting among those women of wisdom was so they can tell the young women how to prepare ourselves before the Sunday suitors came calling. The front porch became the second Sunday church service. Someone raised a hymn and others blended in finding their parts making the most beautiful music together.
In this place called Dalzell, SC, on a Sunday afternoon, after church service, there was this sense of peace that could not be disturbed. What ever happened during the week, whoever called you out of your name, the person who followed you throughout the general store, it did not matter. Not on a Sunday in Dalzell, SC. I imagine that it could have been this way for every black child raised in the south, that on Sundays you got a pass to dream, you got a pass to believe. It is understandable now why Sundays in Dalzell, SC were so important. This was the time as a child we were taught to let our imaginations flow, this was the time we were taught to embrace our worth, this was the time to receive power, because Monday would come and when Monday comes, we must remember who we truly are.
Sure, as a black child growing up in the south in a place called, Dalzell SC, which had one post office and a caution light and adults monitoring black and white children playing together so as to make sure the black child didn’t cross a line, one may think this place to be a memory you would want to forget. I don’t want to forget it. This was a place of dreams and laughter; a place of joy and celebration of community. This was a place that taught me that oppression still raises it’s ugly head, but in spite of it, remember the fun you had running with your friends on the church lawn and hold tight to the lessons the porch women shared with you about how to act on a first date.
We all have stories of our childhood places which have shaped us to be who we are today. Some of those stories may not be so pleasant. But let me challenge you to find a single remembrance that maybe at the time did not seem such a big deal. A single remembrance can be just the smell of freshly cut grass or your very first kiss. You will realize that your hometown, the one you could not wait to escape from when you turned eighteen years old, is the very place you gave birth to your dreams. It is the very place you found out who you are.
My family no longer live in Dalzell, SC. We have moved in all directions, from California to Japan. But that small town with a caution light and one post office, was my home and for that I am grateful.
Happy memories! Love y’all!