Wake up wherever you fell asleep. Feel the rush of where, when, how, why. Billy Sue is here but not startled. This routine has settled into her small bones. She has a pillow on the couch, a pillow on the bed, a pillow on the floor. She looks at me but stays put. It won't be till later I hear the tap of her nails on the hard floor. She knows where I will be and she knows what I will be doing. She expects the music, knows the candle will be lit. There is a hushed bass later behind the ruckus of thoughts.
I once visit a family off a rural but paved road in Charleston. I love their house but I don't think I am supposed to. Someone, somewhere along the way told me to pity them for their lack so I fake it although Modena taught me nobody ever truly fakes it. They only pretend they do. She planted something in my brain via a fried peach pie she made while she smiled. It is clear to me on a supernatural level that woman had powers I only slightly touched.
The family lives behind old stained wood pieced together in a fashion only slightly more sophisticated than the tree house I built as a child. There are holes where windows used to be. How beautiful the wind must be on a hot day when it sneaks in and is married to the one small fan in the middle of a main room. This is where they sleep, a man and a woman labeled by our society as elderly and thin and potentially ill and in poverty and confusing to those of us who have more. Yet I can't help but notice their smiles. They have Modena smiles and I can't hide thinking anything I try to hide from these people will only amuse them. There is a knowing in their eyes saying I may as well be naked.
So I appreciate them. I laugh with them when we discuss how I am supposed to be here to help them. What do they need? How do they feel about that? How do they get groceries? Your son? He lives in town? How often do you see your son? They are fine and who am I. Where am I from?
This is English but a language all itself as well. Their answers require careful thought and any rush I felt getting here is released in this room. When the fan is going at all the way to the right speed you can feel a certain something is going fast enough in order for you to slow down. I ask questions. They provide answers. This is a slow celebratory song. These people are not pitiful and pity is not love.
These are lives to be treasured and adored. These are smiles to be witnessed. That guy who came here and took pictures, one silhouette of a little boy dancing on a flat Delta land. That boy was the grandson of a blues artist from this state and he was dancing to his Papaw's song and even in the blackness of a silhouette you couldn't hide the smile on that baby's face. Or his Granddaddy's.
Although you tried.
The story you wrote around that photograph was one of poverty and a people lesser than and you can go back to California with that story. It is thankfully a free country which means I wanted to buy that photograph before I heard what you thought of it. To me you missed the point. You never even heard the music. You were too busy setting up the shot to recognize you were telling us about you and that's what happens when you bring California to Mississippi.
Don't worry. We'll welcome you back with sweet tea and fried pies and you can sit on our front porches or in our one room homes with a speeding fan and we'll laugh and tell you our stories but don't ever think for a moment we don't see how you're pretending to fake it.