I left “home” when I was 15. My general disaffection for the place and those in it not withstanding (Mama died on Mother’s Day less than three years after my parents’ deaths), it was no longer a place I felt safe or welcomed. The jury is still out on how this early exodus served me: it certainly set the precedent that if I didn’t like where I was, it was time to move on. That became a recurring theme in my life over time; sometimes to my detriment…but that is another blog. At the time, those travels were wholly physical, or so it seemed to my conscious mind at the time. My therapist mostly likely disagrees. But this trip upon which I was about to embark was totally emotional. How does one pack for that?
I would – by necessity – be traveling light. I had my birth certificate, which had my mother’s name and date and place of birth. My oldest sister had visited Mommy’s hometown, had spoken with some relatives, and – while she didn’t get a lot of information about Mommy per se, she did come away with a family tree for Mommy’s paternal line going back to an enslaved Matriarch named Betsey. They also threw in a few names from her maternal line as well – most likely as an aside.
Predictably, I decided to do to begin my search at the mecca of amateur genealogy. I entered the information I had and waited. Not much happened. To pass the time, I entered information about Daddy’s family, and that branch of my family tree started to bloom immediately. I watched this with annoyance: once again, there they were: blocking out the sun. Pulling me in the direction they wanted me to do. I considered deleting them all. This was not about them. My entire, tortured, life had been about them. This was about me: about me and Mommy.
Leaves, leaves, more leaves. When would they stop? I considered deleting my entire paternal branch. That would show them. But no: Mommy and I were better than that. We would let them stay, but they would have to sit quietly on the sofa and behave. For once, they would be relegated to secondary status. I smiled. That would kill them.
Slowly, my maternal branch started to sprout. A succession of Betseys, and Marches, and Habershams; Jeffreys, Joes, and Isaacs. Macks, Dianahs and Catherines. The database offered up records that had to be adjudicated: some were obviously related; others obviously were not. Then there was the “May Be” group: birth dates and ages that didn’t match; multiple spellings of first and last names. Pet and family names used in some records; proper given names used in others. This annoyed my Type A self to no end: certainly people had to know these were official records, for chrissake! Then I had to realize: this was rural South Georgia at the turn of the century, and black people, to boot. Meticulous record keeping was most likely not a priority. In fact, it may not even have been an achievable goal.
Slowly, Mommy’s paternal line, the Mungins, started to flesh out. But all of the links were old: all of the roots were shriveled. I found nothing that connected me to Mommy. Nothing that moved me any closer to understanding what made her, her, or me, me.
Then, finally, one day, it happened. A record from the 1930 census. There was 6-year-old Mommy, in a three-person household: Big Mack, Pearl, and Little Sadie. Little Sadie Mungin. And her mother, Pearl Oliver. Single Pearl Oliver. When Mommy was six, her mother had been…single.