My grandmother kept her stack of photo albums on a shelf beneath the coffee table — large, leather, three-ring binders that stored our family memories, a lifetime of pictures encased
My grandmother kept her stack of photo albums on a shelf beneath the coffee table — large, leather, three-ring binders that stored our family memories, a lifetime of pictures encased beneath crinkly, yellowed sheets of cellophane.
I was drawn to the early albums, the ones that were “B.E.” — before Elizabeth — the ones that held pictures of my dad as a baby in the ’30s, outfitted in his delicate white dressing gown; the ones that showed my grandparents proudly leaning on the hood of their new Hudson Hornet; the ones that revealed first Christmases and good dogs long gone, faded vacations, and unexpected snowfalls.
I pored over the photos of people and places that I didn’t have a clear recollection of, searching for traces of my own face in relatives I’d never met. I’d carry those albums to my grandmother, climb up in her chair, and beg her to “tell about the old days.” And she would! How they kept eggs and buttermilk cold in the springhouse; how she learned to form smooth, cursive letters on a chalkboard slate at school; how she and her brothers and sisters played in the shallow water at the Coleridge Dam on the banks of the Deep River in southeastern Randolph County. She’d flip through those albums and point out the photo of the old homeplace in Ramseur, the two-story white farmhouse where my great-grandfather Walter Allen raised his eight children, she the next-to-youngest, and when she’d remind me that her middle name, Elizabeth, became my name, too, I’d tingle with delight, thrilled by the unity of kinship.
On a perfect blue-sky day a few weeks ago, I went down to the Deep River for a picnic by the water. I walked the rail trail converted from the Atlantic & Yadkin railroad bed that lies between Franklinville and Ramseur and realized that I couldn’t have been more than a few miles from the gravesite of another of my great-grandfathers, Abraham Hudson, the town’s postmaster 120 years ago. I followed an 80-year-old footbridge to a trail leading to Faith Rock, a steep bluestone outcrop rising 50 feet above the water, and I scrambled to the top for a view of the very same landscape my grandparents, my great-grandparents, surely knew as well.
I stood for a long time in this spot, watching the water burbling around the rocks in the river, lapping against the cliff ferns and holly, skirting the old fish weirs that are, remarkably, still anchored, constructed by Saponi and Keyauwee Indian tribes long ago and unmoved by weather or erosion or human intervention. Water, like time, moves in one direction — forward — but if we know where to look, we can glimpse its origin, its starting point.
Here, in this place of deep roots, I felt a convergence: of then and now, of ancestry and history, lifted by the bright, open sky and grounded by the rock beneath my feet. This rock of ages. And while I know it was just the murmur of water and the wind rustling the leaves in the trees, I could almost mistake the sounds for whispers, ancestral voices carrying through the air. I listened, grateful to feel so at home.
Editor in Chief