Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs
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NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST
slowly through the pastures to what we now call Dead Boy Hill, just to the left of the catnippy swale I had described in my “rendering” twenty-three years earlier. We set up the camera, facing east toward the Blue Ridge. In the primordial, mint-and-honeysuckle-smelling stew of midsummer, the platters of Queen Anne’s lace balanced motionless on their spindly supports and the distant hills were muzzy with moisture. The lens I was using was from the old rosewood 5 × 7 inch camera that my father had
perfectly pressed linen dress. It was a pale yellow, and centered above her bun was a pillbox hat made of the same fabric. A necklace of white plastic orbs, resembling the South Sea pearls that you now see oppressing the thin collarbones of ladies who lunch, complemented Gee-Gee’s powerfully muscled neck. The skin swelled out above her too-small white pumps and her stockings had compression puckers where the toes were mashed in. No one had stocking seams anymore, but in every other respect she
that omitted any reference whatsoever to slavery. This paradoxical refusal to own up to the horrors of slavery while glorifying the past of which it was a crucial element indelibly blots our ledger book and complicates the often dishonest narrative of our country’s history. The first slave ship to these shores unburdened her cargo in Virginia, and thereafter our majestic James River was compelled to carry the grievous burden of our country’s slave traffic. No Southern state exceeded Virginia in
tendrils—Miss Havisham’s living room writ large. All the workers, despite wrapping their faces with moistened kerchiefs, coughed constantly and their eyes wept. The mortality rate was unavoidably troubling. As it happened, despite being a pretty tough kid, Robert Munger himself had some pulmonary ailments, and when he began working in the gin, his health suffered along with that of his workers. Wheezing and coughing after work, he and his clever bride, Mary, whom he had married in 1878, began to
illegal. These are well-known facts, except possibly in Texas, and they only increased my trepidation as I headed south in the summer of 2011 to find out what I could about my southern ancestors. My mother’s Boston side was pristine (in that respect, anyway), and, of course, it was also on the right side of Civil War history. But I feared the worst from Alabama and Texas. I found it in a sad and provocative letter preserved in the storage chest of my ninety-three-year-old Birmingham relative.