The South, Richmond VA 1985-1987 part 1

Cicada song came with summer heat and wet as an atmospheric undulating rattle of a call from one thumb sized bug to another, and it echoed loudly in the close summer air. Some call it humidity. I just think the moist air likes to keep nature contained if it can. The chattering rose and fell like a folk song round, musical, unfamiliar to my west coast ears. Cicadas are not morning creatures if I recall correctly. They start singing in the afternoon and the curtain falls on their performance after dusk. I loved finding molted cicada shells discarded below a tree, or even attached to the bark, looking like a ghostly bug, hanging on by spiny legs. Cicada song is comforting and specific to a place. The rise and fall reminded me of where I was in the world. Richmond.

The south was full of nice things, beautiful landscapes, gentle people. We were welcomed to the southland with warmth and hospitality. I moved to Richmond from Pittsburgh in 1985 with husband, 5 and 7 year old sons and a 2 month old daughter. Our introduction to campus life started with a woman at the reception desk who appeared to be well on the way to qualifying as matronly. She stood up, walked around the desk and said, “Oh honey, I’m a hugger. Come on over heah!” I appreciated her welcome, but wondered if my boys would be dismayed by her looming flowered dress. They survived, I think.

We arrived to this entirely new place, moved into an apartment with a year’s lease without researching where to live first. We chose to live near campus in Richmond, not far from downtown. It’s a touchy thing, talking about neighborhoods and schools and where to live when you are new to the south. That first year revealed to me one of the deep social wounds that permeates any town below the Mason Dixon line because of wrongs perpetrated on an earlier generation. As parents we thought, public school will do fine. Who cares if they are the only white kids in their class? Big time naivete. I had no idea how not fine that would be for our kids. But race wounds persist even when we don’t hold the weapon, and we were not prepared to attempt to overcome years of oppression by infiltrating a predominantly black school with our white kids. For a short time I wanted to call out reverse discrimination, but now I know there is no such thing when mistrust is so deeply ingrained. I was relieved but not proud when we moved to the west end after one year.

There were cicadas in the west end too. And life there was full of playground time, cub scouts, pinewood derby, parent teacher conferences and a longer commute for the professor. 

In my second year there in the west end, there was a lump. And a positive biopsy. I was 32.