Wednesday, August 20, 2003


My maternal grandmother, Minnie Ashworth Droddy, did not tell stories as much as she "remembered." Living with her all of her life was her eldest daughter, Elsie, who was simple. I want to remember Elsie also, but that's for another story. My grandmother and Elsie could remember the most incredible details of their lives. Because mostly what they remembered occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s, I sometimes feel as though I have one foot in this century and the other foot in that one. Only now, I have a third century to factor into the analogy, and I'm out of feet, so I'm going to drop it for right now.

Mama and Elsie remembered life when it was simple. Poor, but simple. Between them they could recount the genealogy of individuals I considered total strangers at the time of meeting. They could remember the intricacies of kinship. They didn't always remember things in the same way, and they didn't always end the subsequent argument in agreement.

As a child, I sat through these regressions and discussions and arguments, sometimes paying attention, more often not. I cannot remember the details. I told my sister I was willing to be hypnotized so that someone could get me to channel either my grandmother or my aunt Elsie because you know in the recesses of my mind there are some delicious stories.

Even without channeling or hypnosis, I think the details of their remembering color my perception of life today, and do absolutely lend detail to my ability to imagine our stories. I don't remember as much as I tell stories, richly detailed with vague recollections of my grandmother and aunt fussing with each other about the specific details.

After the Civil War, the dominant White society lost its impetus to keep expanding the definition of Black. Since we had never identified ourselves with Blacks, we continued to identify ourselves as White. Another generation and the core was not quite as dark as the generation before it, and the edges were lighter still. By the time of the birth of my grandmother in 1888, the only place the core remained dark were in the tiny homelands: DeQuincy, Starks, Lunita, Singer, DeRidder; places like that. Those Ashworths and Perkins and Basses and Hoosiers and Clarks and Johnsons living on the perimeter, now thought of themselves as White without having to worry about fighting about it. By 1890 and 1900, they were no longer being listed as Mulatto on the census. When communities became wealthy enough to have schools, Redbones went to White schools. Race was no longer a legal issue. From now on, the game would be played by different rules.

The Civil War

Since almost all of my first 17 years of education were in the South, I was never taught anything that resembled reality regarding the Texas Revolution, the Mexican War of 1845, or the Civil War. Nothing. Nada. Zip. I was taught mythology as history. There was always a right and wrong side, and we were always right. There's something to be said for creating mythologies. Damn, sometimes I hate how reality has to devastate mythology. The way it happens is personal.

For me, I discovered that I probably wasn't descended from plantation folks, but rather from folks that the plantation folks would just as soon have turned into Black slaves. Damn, but that makes it personal.

Then once you start looking at the details, you notice other aberations. For instance, my great-grandfather (mother's father) and his brother were both charged with desertion from the Confederate forces. The ggguncle, was also charged with being a "copperhead." After becoming aware of that fact, I read where they were not alone in their reactions and behavior from the other "crackers" of central Louisiana.

Not all of the Ashworths that could serve in the war, did. Quite a few managed to avoid it. Quite a few others did serve. Whether they were drafted or volunteered is one of those details still hidden to history. In the mythology of Southern history, there isn't even a mention of a draft, except in reference to the North, where it was always coupled with a footnote remembering the fact that one could buy their way out. Well, let me tell you, friends and neighbors, just like the marines drafted boys from our families during Vietnam, the South drafted our boys to fight for slavery.

If I sound bitter about this, it's because I am. In the bloody South, if you owned, or your family owned, more than 100 slaves, you were exempt from service because it just wouldn't be prudent to leave all those women folk alone with all those slaves. Since my families, for the most part, never owned slaves, they had to go be cannon fodder for the rich kids. Sort of like George W. Bush, our beloved president, did in Vietnam. He stayed home out of harms way. Hasn't stopped him from sending other boys to harms way, has it.

But I digress. I can only imagine how the Ashworth cousins dealt with the Civil War. Don Marler, in his recently published book, The Louisiana Redbones, says that we are a violent culture. Violent rather than warlike. Individuals are violent, cultures are warlike. I believe that we were a group of outcasts as opposed to a culturally defined group, or as my grandpa mght have said, "just because we're all outlaws doesn't mean we belong to the same gang." Given another hundred years, we might have become a more distinct subculture, but since we never thought of ourselves as anything but White, we kept assimilating. Our core might have been dark, but our edges kept getting Whiter and Whiter.

To the extended Ashworth families, the darker core seemed to have avoided the war, and those along the edges were more likely to have participated.