I lived in Emanuel County for six years. Below I have included a story I wrote about the community which has shared so much kindness, love and opportunity with me. You can also click HERE if you would like to be taken to a link to the City of Swainsboro website- it includes stories, histories, and a lot of information about the County seat of Emanuel County! Enjoy!
Before I move to the story- I’d like to elaborate a little more about “Home”. I am from Tybee Island (sometimes called Savannah Beach) and lived in Savannah through College. In 2005, I moved with Bridget Conn, Bryan Ghiloni, Jean Gray Mohs and Desmal Purcell (all members of Stillmoreroots) to Emanuel County. We were only planning on living there for a year but as we fell in love with this place- we became
members of a larger story. We volunteered at the Arts Council, started a Gallery, I became the Director of Downtown Development and this is love- responsibility and trust and time- this becomed love.
I’d heard that the land was dirt poor. They even called the first men to till the soil straight down to the roots- dirt farmers. There are ways to say words without malice, without judgment, with an inflection or with a pause that means that you understand the full breadth of the words your sayin and when people say “dirt farmer” or “God’s County” or “have a blessed day”, you know these are not words, they are bonds. It’s the same way with the waves strangers give you while driving down the road. It’s this same way with the conversations neighbors have from one porch to the next porch- across a street even- at dusk.. talking about the weather or fried collard greens. It’s in this way that a story told the first time, a hundred years ago, has the same strength, has the same meaning a hundred years later:
A woman placing a plow on her back to the till the soil for a sickly neighbor so there could be a harvest, a man riding a mule all the way to Augusta to give a seedling to a visiting President, a woman using a knot of cob-webs as a remedy for a cut-tongue, a girl loosing her senior ring in a stretch of wheat that later would become the pines that run in rows straight through to a family’s property line that’s stood intact for six generations- as firm a landmark as the Ohoopee or Ogeechee.These are stories to be told, again.
And beneath the dirt, beneath the clay, beneath the rock there is an aquifer beneath Emanuel County that is so large that it pushes up against the land.. like an exhale that creates large dunes and hills. A thousand holes scattered across the land reach down, stretching to pull the water up but most are abandoned.. brick-covered scars like the cross-hatched cat-faced trees our father’s cut. The water, the holes, the bricks, the trees are their own prayer. The land is a whisper echoing between lanterns and silos and lovers. If there was a photograph of this- you’d keep it in your wallet, if there was a photograph of this- you’d hang it on your front door as a way to say welcome, a way to say something meaningful, as a way to start every sentence and seal every pledge.
There is no movement, so subtle, that it does not bear in it some purpose. When the men from State gover’ment forget a promise to fix a road: there is a patch on it by mid-afternoon.. somethin homemade maybe… but these are our roads. When a neighbor lays dying, waiting and dying, and the people from the Hospice don’t come: there is a knock on your door and you spend the whole Sunday waiting at a bedside speaking softly because that is your neighbor. When you are walking across the parking lot, lost and lonely, and a stranger stops to say, “you don’t know me, but I wanted to say thank you” … for some act, some effort you’d already forgotten about… this.. becomes home. The old barns made of weathered wood and the passing assurance of a nod, a conscious tip of the head while passing is a confidence of the living- that we will never… be alone.
An unbroken list of family names outdate the settlin of this land. There are a merging of names and peoples that are celebrated on street signs and carvings on trees. There is the daily gesture of a man pointing West saying “Go past the old Dolores and Woody’s Building”.. and in that, there is an overlapping of the past and the present.. It is clear that if you want to feel, to know anything about this land, these people, this County.. you must listen to the stories.. to the humming of a voice singing a song that conjures the burlap bags, the tobacco, the pines, the cotton and the sweat, the weaving fingers, the light that came through the blinds the night you first fell in love, the pecan’s falling on the roof, the porch swing and the guitar playing, the walls and the windows and the marks your mother drew against the doorframe for each year you grew, the long shadows and the open field, the blackberries and honeysuckle, the dirt roads and fishing line, the words “welcome home” left in a note on your pillow.
These caliced hands tell a story of work and of love. This land deserves a flag… this land remains… the vase of America.