Sorry, Ray(ro(bert))a is gesticulating wildly as I type. He is giggling that my chosen Commonwealth has the same name as my Mom. Both are named Virginia. He sees a link in that. Whatever. It is true that my Dad’s genealogical work makes us likely ancestors of the village of Henricus. There is a blood relation to the place I’ve picked as home. “Told you,” says Ray(ro(bert))a.
This is a consistent occurrence each time I cross the Potomac River into Virginia. I experience a palpable sense of belonging and relief. I can almost feel my ancestors crowded around me, kissing and hugging and inviting me inside to sit a spell and maybe have a bite to eat. Visits to N.J. are like stepping on a battlefield. My sparring partners are my family. I can’t relax entirely while I am in the company of my Dad and my sisters. Each visit is the sort of maneuvering war and probing battle I remember from my grade school days. I’d have an easier time if I just moved home and wore the costume of crazy ugly duck laid out for me in my sister’s old bedroom. My youngest sister has very clearly marked out her turf in each room of my Dad’s house save for his bedroom. Her and her daughter’s toys and clothes are strewn about the house. The unspoken message is loud, “this is mine!” Crossing the Potomac River into Virginia is a much happier experience.
Richmond, VA is my adopted home. I’m a “come here“. This is the capital of the South. We are one corner of the slave triangle. We saw our city burned in the Civil War. The Confederate While House is not far from my house. My regular exercise walk is on an island that was a P.O.W. camp, steel foundry and stone quarry. We still fly the confederate battle flag as an act of open defiance. Those that only know us from what the press says about us assume we are luddite, stupid, backwards rednecks who are agin everything and at core, deep haters.
My Kool-Aid was always blue. My diapers were light-red/dark pink. My family has been social justice warriors and believers in a more perfect world since at least the 16th century. Richmond, VA is enemy territory. It is the capital of the Confederacy. We are one corner of the slave triangle that also had stops in England and Nigeria. We still fly the Confederate battle flag. There is a group of re-enactors who dress in Confederate Army battle dress and stand guard at the war memorial. Those that only know us from the press assume we are all Scots/Irish or German, hate anyone who doesn’t share our ancestry, are stuck to our guns and religion, and gay unfriendly. Those folk would be wrong.
One of the things I appreciate about this side of the Potomac is that people will at least listen and feign interest in your point of view. At home, a hint of opposition is met with a thunderous roar of intolerance. I am very quickly labeled a redneck hater. The litany of sins of my Southern friends is shot across my face as if I had betrayed my Yankee/Pinko heritage and needed to be brought to heel.
It’s not good to preach. I know that. Sermonizing is one of those really annoying habits. I try to give it up but my upbringing fires up and fighting off the urge to yell back can be difficult. This is today’s way to not go there. First, no location is ever as simple as the soundbite image depicts it. Because we are one corner of the slave triangle there are a lot of West-African descendants who stuck around through slavery and since. We are also a place where Vietnam War refugees and victims of Pol Pot came to make a new life. There is an active protest community that never lets us forget the ways in which we are screwing things up. The rednecks are here but they are not the depicted majority the press wants them to be. I am an ex-pat resident of Berkeley, Ca. with a decidedly red/pinko heritage. I am welcomed in the capital of slavery. I am shunned by my pinko kin for traitorous blasphemy. Crossing the Potomac to Virginia is a good thing.
Ray(ro(bert))a says I should quit worrying about it. This from the avatar of all my anxiety, “fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.” His idea for self-soothing is a pint of Legend Brewing Bleeding Nun Spicy Stout and a cheeseburger. He has a point. Actually . . . it’s a pretty good idea. I can walk to Legend Brewing. You know what? I’m hungry. Y’all coming with me? South Jersey gets put on this list of things I cannot change. I love my Dad and my sisters. Let ’em mummify my Mom so they can hold on to their bitter past. Ray(ro(bert))a is all excited at the fried pickles. He’s making jokes about mummified corned beef. Or my Mom’s but cheeks in a slow cooker. He’s an alien so it isn’t cannibalism. Asshole.