by Joellen Kubiak-Woodall
My life began on a dirt road, Rural Route 3. By my sixth birthday in 1965, America launched a man into space, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, and our president John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It was an exciting, turbulent, and often confusing era in which to be a child. For a while, my family and I led a slow-paced simple life on a slow-paced and simple road. My upbringing was not typical of the South or the time. We lived side by side with people of color. In my youth, I did not see race or understand class. Eventually that would change and the ugliness of life would find me and my road. Time does not stand still, roads change, and innocence fades. As an adult, I am sometimes nostalgic for the road and the life that was.
Route 3 begins at Shultz’s Hill and runs like an old root twisting and turning until it joins Old Edgefield Road. It dips and dives in search of creeks and springs; forking midway, a minor branch slides towards Haskell’s Dairy and the Aiken Augusta Highway. Aiken is the county seat and Augusta, Georgia, the nearest big city. Between the two lies North Augusta, South Carolina, and the Savannah River which forms the state line.
At its deepest point Route 3 rests against a creek. Dotting that creek is a small number of houses, thirteen to be exact, seven belonging to my family. As a child, I thought that anyone living in the immediate vicinity, regardless of race or familial resemblance, was related to me. Any man was an uncle, any woman an aunt, any other child, a cousin. Correcting me on this issue only increased my confusion. Any detailed explanation given by my grandmother of who was what to whom seemed hopelessly complicated. Such discussions ended with my posing a question.
“But Grandma, can’t I still call Fanny Aunt Fanny if I want to?” The answer was always the same.
“Yes, but she really isn’t your aunt.” I was not one to split hairs over what I considered a minor and pointless detail. I could see that Fanny looked different, but so what? Now I understand the perplexed looks and good-natured laughter that ensued whenever I addressed a black woman as Aunt. Everyone found this amusing, even Fanny. At least I wasn’t the only confused child. My brother Steven and my cousins Alan and Sharon all addressed her in the same way.
*The preceding is an excerpt from the short story The Road. It is part of Claypit Road, a memoir collection.