Jamie Mayes, AOE

Archive for March, 2017|Monthly archive page

My Ancestors’ Garden

In Uncategorized on March 17, 2017 at 6:27 am

This year I made the decision to take my garden from a pot to a yard gardening experience. For the past few days, I have been spending the evenings working vigorously to remove eight deep-rooted tree stumps with deep roots in front of my house. Yes, this is an odd place to plant vegetables, but I think it will be a beautiful little spot of color right next to the front door. Besides, my backyard boasts three large trees that limit sunlight, so the front yard is the best place. It seems strange, but I trust that it will be a beautiful site in a few weeks. I had imagined the root-digging to be a difficult task, so much so that I had initially asked a man with a small excavator to remove the roots. Yet, a year later the roots were still bulging from the ground and I needed to prepare my area. The rain had softened the ground and I knew the soggy soil would be much easier to navigate, so I took advantage of it. The mud was easy to dig and sling around, but the roots proved to be just as challenging as I suspected. I had determination, though, so I fought through one root at a time, using the tip of my shovel to break and smash through roots.

After attacking the second root and about thirty minutes into my project, a surge of pain began moving through my back. I struggled to bend over, but I was determined not to let pain stop my progress. I continued to try to break the roots, using my hand from time to time to pull chunks of dirt, grass and roots up. After a few minutes longer, I needed a break. I went to the trunk of my car, got a bottle of water and leaned on the hood. I guzzled it down like the chilly afternoon was a scorching hot summer day. I looked at my project in dismay; my progress was small in comparison to what seemed like a lot of work and effort put into the project.

How did they do it? I thought to myself. How could my ancestors have possibly tilled, dug, shoveled and planted hundreds of acres by hand whether it was hot, cold, rainy or snowing outside. I had been at my task for a little less than an hour and my body was already in excruciating pain. My ancestors, on the other hand, worked at least twelve and up to twenty hours per day during harvesting season. This was hard, back-breaking work for which I cannot imagine fair compensation. And my ancestors had done this for free for hundreds of years on plantations across the world.

I stared at the ground again and anger and disappointment ran through me. How could America not celebrate the culture and honor the people who not only fed the people of this land, but built this country brick by brick? How dare this country reduce our more than 400 years of American history to three pages in a textbook! It is difficult imagine how Black History is not truly seen and respected as American History. Look what they had endured for the sake of this country! As pain continued to flow my body, so did anger. I could see images of black women with newborns strapped to their backs tilling and planting endless acres of land. I could see the sun beaming on the lash-beaten backs of old black men who were stooped over picking cotton with huge burlap bags dragging behind. I could see them on a tattered porch eating biscuits and pig’s feet with greens from a dog’s pan. Scenario after scenario played in my mind; all I could think about was how hard it must’ve been for my ancestors to just survive. But they did.

There had to be something greater that pushed them each day, because this type of body-deteriorating work was enough to make any man succumb to natural death. They didn’t just survive slavery; they survived being beaten, being fed scraps of food, being berated, belittled, raped and help captive. They survived hell, still believing that better days were ahead. Though they had nothing, they did not give up.  It stirred my spirit to imagine my ancestors who were born into slavery, lived in slavery, and died still in slavery; yet, America still holds tBackyard Vegetable Garden Design Plansheir stories captive. They won’t let our tongues tell the world of the burdens black people bore for this country. They deny us the privilege of a history that is respected like the Holocaust and held with high regard like the words of the U.S. Constitution.

However, after this experience, I am even more determined to not be quiet. I will study every book, I will listen to every story, and I will teach every child about the real American History. I will teach my son that he is blessed to be black and that survival comes to him naturally because it is a part of the black American bloodline. Lastly, I will till this garden with no complaints, and I will use its harvest to nourish my family and friend’s bodies. I will make no complaints about the work, for what I do by choice each day, my ancestor did for centuries with no options. I have accepted that America will never respect my ancestor’s story, which is exactly why I always will.

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