I have a meeting before dawn and because I am pathologically punctual like no one else alive, I get there early, even if I am still fighting the flu. I park just to the side of the front of a convenience store and the owner, a stern looking man with a bushy mustache and cell phone glued to one ear, walks out to sternly glare at me for just parking and not buying anything. It’s an impolite way of clearing a parking space but it’s before dawn so there isn’t anyone else around. Someone desperately seeking coffee, because drinking convenient store coffee is like scoring heroin from someone you met in an outhouse, pulls in and he has to retreat from his optical chastisement. This is a small town in South Georgia and if you were to travel US84 from one side of the state to Alabama, each and every small town would be very much like the other.
My cultural DNA is from South Georgia but sometimes I feel like a bastard child. The convenient store is adjacent to a lot where there is one of the omnipresent trailer houses that litter South Georgia, and this is one so stereotypical it would be cast in a movie about South Georgia if one was ever shot. Someone took some sort of aluminum garden shed and attached it to the front of a single wide trailer to give them an extra bedroom. It’s judgmental, I know, and I hate myself for thinking things like this, but I can envision some overweight redneck tacking a shed to his trailer so his fifteen year old daughter can keep her two kids in the same room. The other bedroom is already taken by the older daughter who has two of kids of their own from three different fathers.
What I should do is point out someone out there has the skill to pull off such a feat of engineering, but I have seen far too many attempts that had failed. Enough do work to keep others trying and when it gets right down to it, who among us wouldn’t tack a shed to a trailer to make room for a child if that is all that was left to do? Doesn’t it seem like a man with enough skill to put a shed onto a trailer and make a home for his grandchildren would have the ingenuity to make a better living? But the world doesn’t work like that. It wasn’t the men mining for gold who made the money but the men who sold the shovels and the men who owned the land. The men who coaxed food from the ground as sharecroppers lived like animals while the plantation owners lived like kings. This man attaches a garden shed to a trailer, the most unlikely of copulations, and still lives in a hovel, however clever.
The light slowly becomes good enough for me to see the state of ill repair of the trailer itself, with sheet metal tacked on here and there, and pieces mismatched by color, and the layered flashing that indicates leaks and more leaks and new leaks. Now I can see the graveyard of car parts in the yard, an engine block rusting on the ground, and in one window is a confederate flag with a bass in the middle.
I despise the term poor white trash because it tosses all poor white people in the same boat with those people who are trashy. The amount of engineering skill it takes to attach a shed to a trailer and make it livable speaks to the ability of someone to make a home out of nothing and being able to use your hand like that is a gift, but it doesn’t mean someone is good with money, or has the skills to get an education. But there is a great deal of ignorance associated with the War Of Northern Aggression and the flag is a symbol of that ignorance. To stick a fish in the middle of it and fly it from your bedroom window is to assure some assumptions are going to be made about you, and here we are.
The light filers slowly through the overcast sky and I see there is a stack of firewood near a pecan tree near a laundry line. Fireplaces in modified trailers seem to be sure evolutionary devices yet I see no sign of a chimney. But my roots in this part of the world run deep. I cannot deny my blood. I look for, and find, a burn barrel near the stack, and see the distorted air still boiling out of the top. There is a chair, no, two, now I can see a third and this is the community come and sit and drink place. I’ve sat around a fire just like this and drank with flag fish people before. Now I see two toy dump trucks near the fire, where children would play while surreptitiously listening to the adults talk, learning all the fish flag people lore they need to go nowhere in life. The owner of the store comes out to glare at me again and this time he means business. I ignore him, and even if he doesn’t realize it, if he says anything to me I’m going to shake hands with him, and cough on him. There is a pair of child sized overalls on the fence around the house, and parts of the fence are missing. There’s a tire swing hanging from the pecan tree and I wonder how the hell they managed to get the rope up that high, and what sort of limb it is connected to up there. Out of the shadows what I thought was a pile of junk the form of a kayak emerges. A kayak? That is odd but it’s full of water and I can see the reflection of light where the seat ought to be. It is the shell of a kayak, perhaps. I can see now the trailer/shed combo is resting on a concrete slab that is far too large for it, as if they erected the thing on the grave of a larger building. The wan dawn light reveals a pig trail of beaten down grass to the dirt where the flag fish people have trodden back and forth to the convenience store. The light gains strength and I see beyond the trailer/shed there are two more rows of trailers each one of them with just enough room for a truck to park between. The owner of the store comes to glare at me again, but the guy I’m meeting with finally arrives. The store owner knows him and smiles. “Have any problems finding this place?” he asks.”I was born here” I nearly tell him.
Anytown South Georgia. Anywhere along US84 it looks just like this, at exactly the same time of day.