Red-clay mud

When we moved here, I felt guilty for putting a house on what had recently been part of a sprawling farm. I am  a preservationist, loving old houses, original paintings, wide-open fields and close family roots. My roots are deep in Carolina red-clay mud. It’s not the fancy pluff mud of the haunted Lowcountry. It’s not the rare blackjack soil that my grandma relishes for its minerals and its richness. It’s tough, unyielding, sticky and blobbish dirt, iron-rich but stubborn – it does what it wants, when it wants, and however it wants – or not. It breaks new shovels. It traps cars. It shuns anything but the hardiest weeds.

I wanted to stay in the small town that we first moved to, but a big country club sprang up, knocking house prices out of reach for us. We drove around all summer, looking at places, until the hubs said “let’s go north.” North of uptown was foreign land to me. But north we went, and I fell in love.

This part of town was Mayberry, only with diversity. On national holidays, the local veterans of all hues lined the streets with American flags. My neighbors occasionally run up and down the street with home-baked pies and fresh tomatoes. My kids, even, will bake a batch of muffins and take them to somebody, just because. The trains run at 7 am and 7 pm. On the main drag, the kids still wave to the conductor.

The post office smells like the dust of times past, and was slated for closure a few years ago, but we managed to save it. It is dated but lovely, with gilded windows on the boxes and a plaque that reads “1962.”

There’s a bar here that used to be a tractor parts store, and they still have the tractor parts in it and a ubiquitous, necessary hound that chases flies in the summer. The bar has the best acoustics in town for live music. We were there one night and I was dancing with a guy who sang, quite well, into my ear. At this place, if you don’t drink your beer fast enough, a man in overalls buses your table and tosses the bottle.

The farm, diminished somewhat because of our subdivision, butted up against our back yard. We picked this lot for that reason. We still have cows to feed, if they’ll come to us. We watch yearly for the new calves and lambs; this year, we actually have a black lamb. The roosters occasionally prance past us. The coyotes dwell in the woods that hide a bubbling creek and all sorts of snakes.

One spring, my little sister got my kids a gigantic airplane kite; it was too big to fly without a huge amount of space. We asked the farmer if we could use the big field, and he graciously said yes. One day, a day like today when the wind was just right, the grass only about knee-high and the cows were in another field, we took the kite down the dirt path and into the meadow. We tipped around cow patties. I got my older daughter to hold the roll of string, and I went running through the field with the biggest kite you’ve ever seen. It took about five tries, but the wind finally caught it.

I kept running, back and forth over the red clay and the grass that would eventually become food for the cows, until the kite became steady in the wind and my daughter needed help holding the roll of string.

I watched the kite rise and dip, rise and dip.

My children laughed and laughed.

I wanted to cry.