The South is like your eccentric aunt. When you take her places, you have to either explain her actions or work to make eye contact with the person who is staring. When you finally catch their eye, you silently ask, “What, don’t you have any strange clothes that you put on every once in a while?”
Today is the Sesquicentennial of the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Today the South is out in public in her strange hat, lace gloves and hoop skirt.
My family drug ourselves out of bed at 3:30 this morning and arrived down at the Battery. Our city is old enough to need the protection. We walked around the paths that cross White Point Gardens. Time glitched. There were several folks in “period” dress. Snatches of conversation passed by in the unique breadth of the Charleston accent, “Union time is 20 minutes behind our time, you know.” The band in their black suits setting up for their somber concert. A bike swept by us crunching on the oyster shells and a police car pulled to a stop nearby; we crossed a paved street. As we ascended the slate steps to the height of the “high battery,” we could see the piercing beam of light cutting into the night – Fort Sumter was under that beam.
People stood in the wind stoically staring at the fort. A whisper, a shushing of a baby, the musical sadness of “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord” bushing past us as it blew its way towards the fort. For 95% of the people standing on the Battery, this was grim. There is a sorrow in our mind. The reality of the cost. The consciousness of the loss of idealism that uncivil wars bring a nation. In our hearts, the rending of hope all over again. The fierceness of place and blood in the psyche of a people. Our blood, our hope, our consciousness, our reality, our sorrow.
There was no gasp of delight nor a hiss of aggression where we stood watching the rending of the light into to divergent beams.
This is the majority of the South. This is the eccentric aunt.
The 5% that gets the camera light is not the eccentric aunt. It is plain unsettling. It causes the sorrowful majority to take a mental moment. “Am I glorifying the past?” “Do I come across as celebrating the Confederacy?” “Who am I? Can I be a Southerner if this is what people think of us?”
There were people there who popped champaign. There were those who have elevated their long dead family members to hero status. There were those whose lens by which they interpret the world is still white controlled, elitist, and based off of their view of power. These are not the eccentric aunt. These folks fall into other categories: bigots, self-serving, or socially self-isolating.
Just felt we needed to have that discussion. Carry on. I’m putting on my floppy hat and lace gloves and heading out for a walk.