Friday, July 31, 2015

Like kudzu, come to think of it

sometimes the words i throw out into the world scatter and create new stories, all by themselves. sort of like children, i suspect. you raise a story up from that first uncertain word until it blooms into 700 or even thousands of words and then you nudge it out, into its own journey.

such is a story i published two weeks ago now, about the farm i share with my siblings — though none of us could wield a plow if we had to. shortly after the story ran, the emails began, mostly from people who hail from Sunbury, the little village near where the farm sits. a cousin i had never met contacted me, as did strangers with my own last name, sharing their own memories of the place i had written about. as my quiet little story picked up steam, i lured in a couple of new blog followers, and six on twitter. #wow! 

still more strangers shared it on Facebook, on their own pages and even on a page dedicated to memories of Gates County. as the days passed, i responded to the emails, marveling at how connected people felt because of my few words about, well, connecting.

of course the email chain faded, as happens, and i set my sights on work and other things, wondering what in the world i'd write next.

a couple of days ago, a new email landed in my inbox, a delightful tome from a woman on the west coast whose Tar Heel sister had sent her my column. her own grandparents lived near our family farm, and she recalled her father's home:
"...a real crossroads with their house, an uncle's and across the street the country store and owner's house where my warts were wished off one Sunday afternoon."
her own family farm stands not far from ours but it is out of the family now. i wrote back, saying that we were practically neighbors, to which she responded: probably 14th cousins, several times removed. 

this is such a part of what i love about writing: readers who take the time to tell you how much your little story means to them. these comments are no small thing to me. 

we continued to email each other, unknowingly setting into motion a "whole 'nother story," as they say where i come from. 

as i learned more about her, we discovered link upon link to each other: our grandfathers were contemporaries. she grew up on one end of Halifax County and i on the other. she gave her sister my book a few years ago. she loves Nags Head as much as i do, and the beach cottage her family rented when she was a child? owned by her "Cousin Joe Byrum," who was my grandfather's brother and married to her grandfather's first cousin. can you follow? i might need to diagram it.

(wouldn't that make her a cousin to me by marriage? maybe 14th, several times removed?)

no people. you can't make this stuff up. 

photo copyright Watson Brown. Used with permission.
this morning, i found myself lured back to my Sunbury connections on Facebook, when i stumbled upon a photograph of our farm, taken last year by Watson Brown, the exceptional photographer of weathered old buildings and the beautiful landscape of eastern North Carolina. Another accidental connection.

I don't know Watson personally, but we have many mutual friends, and i've followed his work for the past couple of years, drawn to his images of home. there is a great beauty in the art he finds among the ruins. 

His calling is to document the fading history that connects all of us who call 'God's Country' home. he travels the back roads and dirt paths in search of life as it was once lived out.

browsing through his work, i image the voice of an aproned mother calling her kids across the field to home, the scrape of a father's boots on the back porch on his way in from a long day of fielding, the sounds and smells of something fried drifting out of the kitchen window toward the noses of those children, who turn and run, hurdling the rows of cotton, so as not miss a morsel of a summer supper.

my new friend on the West Coast and i hope to meet next time she comes this way. i have no doubt we'll find even more connections that link our families. in fact, i have a second cousin i'd like her to meet. his grandmother was her grandfather's cousin, Irma, so they are actually related. maybe we will share our family trees and see the many ways they do connect. 

if i've learned one thing in all my years of writing, it's that a story can take root and grow right where you sow it, standing tall and strong against the sunlight like a weathered old oak. but sometimes a story lifts itself up and spreads like kudzu all over the landscape, one thread leading to another until it's hard to tell if there is any beginning or end.

this is a story like that, i think, and i hope it will keep on growing. 

writemuch.blogspot is the original work of author susan byrum rountree. all written work and photography is copyright protected and can only be used with written permission of the author.