Marie and I
by Mary Ellen Gambutti
Sun rises over farm fields, and she piles up dark hair, ties a crisp apron over her work-dress. Born November 1, 1858, brown-eyed, sturdy and tall, Marie, daughter of a Greenville, South Carolina farmer and Civil War soldier and his second wife, Marie assumes care of her father’s home, and her siblings upon her mother’s death.
Marie marries neighbor, John Cox, a prominent farmer. With their own eleven children—among the brood, Frank, my grandfather—they raise Marie’s youngest siblings.
Until searching at forty, I knew nothing of my birth family. As a child, I shadowed my adoptive mother’s mother, my Nana, in her garden; was by her side at her Maytag wringer washer. When I turned eighteen, she gave me an oil lamp, wash board, and patchwork quilt—blessings toward the simple life she shared from her own rural upbringing; one I admired.
Long hair, jeans, granny dresses and sandals—my counter-culture costume. With my tribe, I emulated American life one-hundred-and-twenty-five years earlier. We found liberty close to earth, lit oil lamps, gardened, had babies by natural childbirth, nursed them on demand, hung diapers in the sun. Lived off-grid in an 1800’s farmhouse. Reality encroached and showed we were servile to rusticity.
Marie bakes bread and pies in her wood-fired oven, preserves home garden bounty—okra to beans, and peaches. John contributes wheat and corn. Her daughters ride with her to Simpsonville market in a horse-drawn wagon.
Washdays, boys haul well water to the galvanized tub on a wood fire in the yard. Marie and the older children scrub with washboard and hang laundry on lines. In winter, washing is done at the woodstove, hung to dry in the kitchen.
A photograph of Marie and John taken at one of their children’s weddings shows her standing tall, serene, looking straight at the camera. She wears a long, black wool suit, and white chemise; proud winter garb. She’s fair-skinned with a high forehead and cheekbones, like me, and like mine, her fingers are long. Her left hand rests tenderly on John’s right shoulder, as he sits beside her—partners in business and life.
Marie and John are laid to rest in Antioch Churchyard, Fork Shoals. One bright October Sunday, 1994, I connect with kin in the tiny brick church. My birth mother and I worship in one voice and spirit with Marie.
* * * * *
Mary Ellen Gambutti's work is published or forthcoming in Gravel Magazine, Wildflower Muse, Remembered Arts Journal, Vignette Review, Modern Creative Life, Thousand and One Stories, Halcyon Days, NatureWriting, PostCard Shorts, Memoir Magazine, Haibun Today, CarpeArte, Borrowed Solace, Winter Street Writers, Amethyst Review, StoryLand, mac(ro)mic, SoftCartel, Drabble, FewerThan500, BellaMused and Contemporary Haibun Online. Her book is Stroke Story, My Journey There and Back. She and her husband reside in Sarasota, FL.