Southern Belle #1

Growing up on a farm in Georgia in the nineties makes for a juxtaposed experience with my current adult life living in a California city thirty years later. In the outskirts of a small town outside of Atlanta that would later explode into “The Hollywood of the South”, there was a plot of land where I spent about twelve years of my childhood. From the age of three, I ran around barefoot and wild in the southern heat, drinking from the hose, rolling around in hay, and exploring everything the thirty acres of land had to offer.

The land was purchased by my grandparents in the 80s. It was named “The Promised Land”, something my Papa promised my Nana when they left their coastal Florida house. “I’ll give you the Promised Land, Jeanne”. The land was covered in fields with gently rolling hills with no buildings on it. Papa and Dad built an apartment first, a small one bedroom, one bath place with a tiny kitchen and living room just big enough to hold an upright piano and tiny couch. As the story goes, Papa and Dad lived there while they built the rest of the houses on the land. They would build one house for Dad and his wife, two stories with a two car garage, slated wood siding, three bedrooms and two baths upstairs, a kitchen, laundry room, den, living room, and dining room downstairs. Then came Papa and Nana’s house, about 100 feet away from Dad’s house; a single story ranch house with a large front porch for their rocking chairs. Lastly, they built a giant garage attached to the apartment, enough to later hold boats and motorcycles and cars and even an airplane whose wings folded back; we called this “The Shop”. The three buildings faced each other and the gravel driveway ran down the middle.

When I moved in eleven years later, the farm had grown to include heads of red beef cattle that roamed the fields, an orchard with apple trees, cherry trees, and pear trees, a HUGE fig tree, and a vineyard behind the Shop with delicious grapes, muscadines, and scuppernongs.

Summers were spent completely outside. My sister and I would be locked out of the house all day, told to fend for ourselves. Georgia summers, so hot and humid that every inch of your skin was damp all day and night. Rose and I would eat apples off of the trees and pluck scuppernongs from the vines, sucking their warm and juicy insides out of their thick green skins, leaving our hands sticky. The muscadines couldn’t compare to the scuppernongs in taste or size so we avoided those vines. We had to touch each piece of fruit and gently squeeze it to determine its ripeness before pulling it from the vine. If it was too hard, it would be bitter and impossible to suck the insides out. If it was too soft, it would mush between our fingers and the guts would cover our hands. Better to be too soft though, the warm fruit was sickeningly sweet. The perfect scuppernong was large, a very light purplish-gold color, with slight give to the squeeze, indicating juicy meat inside, and preferably sitting in the hot Southern sun for hours so it was warmer than your mouth. If I found a good bunch of scuppernongs, I would grab a fistful of the round fruit and yank them off in one go before greedily shoving them into my mouth and tossing the skins on the ground. I could hear “thunks” from other super ripe scuppernongs falling to the ground somewhere else along the vine.

When we reached in the leaves to inspect the scuppernongs with our deft hands, we would brush against furry bees sucking the juices from the ripe fruit. Their hums indicated to us that this bunch was about to rot on the vine; we were in a race against time and the bees to fill our bellies. We made ourselves sick eating the warm fruit from the vines before washing our sticky hands and faces with the warm water from the Shop hose.

As the summer turned to fall, we made do with increasingly harder and less sweet fruit, settling on the muscadines for a few weeks before the season was over.