As our car turns down the lane, I flash back to Mom in the driver’s seat, the blue Nissan van idling beneath us as we wait for the yellow behemoth of a school bus to mount the hill in the sunrise hour. It’s too far to walk to catch the bus, so Mom drops us off and picks us up each day.
Then, we drive past the entrance to the first plantation house, I think of my cousin Lauren and Dad trimming the boxwoods there. I see the carriage pulling up front, a woman in long skirts stepping out, dismay at her isolation etched into the corners of her mouth. She is white. Behind her, six people step out of the back of a wagon, pulling down trunks and flour, much more than dismay in their eyes. They are black.
A mile and a half further on, I see the stump that Mom and her friend used as their marker to turn back home when they walked every day, filling the forest with stories and laughter. I force myself to see that trunk as a tree, tall and wide; imagine a spot on its trunk where young Tom, an enslaved boy, rubbed his fingers on the way to the fields every day.
We turn and cross into the Chapel Field, and I notice that the first hay will be ready to cut soon and smile at memories of Meander and I walking this stretch when she was a tiny pup and could barely keep up with Dad’s old dog. In a moment, my eyes slide to see men with arched backs swinging axes and pulling saws as they clear this land 300 years ago, land they will never own, land their master, rightfully or not, claims as his.
Ahead, Dad’s house sits tucked into a hollow above the ice pond. As I step from our car, I look down over the hill and imagine a wagon below, this time packed with ice, a young man with numb fingers fumbling with the reins of the horse. Flickering through that image, I see Dad and I walking that trail in the months after Mom died, both of us fumbling through the saddest days of our lives, trying to get our life wagon back on track.
When we talk about linked descendants, we certainly mean, in the most fundamental way, people who are tied together by the cords of history. It is the relationship between master and slave and the interlocking threads that bind them in such unusual but special ways. But there is another, perhaps even more profound linkage – the way a place can wrap people to each other, fold the space of tree trunks and road beds into the scars we carry in our hearts. I am linked to the enslaved people of the Bremo plantations in this way – through a kaleidoscope of woundings.
I choose to remember my home for all it is – the home in which I was raised; my safe haven that was not safe for everyone who has lived there; a place of enslavement for over 250 people for over 150 years; the land that was cleared and maintained by people who had no choice but to do so; the home in which my father lives; the place where my mother died.
The geography of my home place is complex, painful, beautiful, rich, and hard. Just like humanity. Just like history. Just like home.