Gee’s Bend is more than a tight-knit community, it’s more like one big extended family. Mary Ann seems to know everyone we meet or knows someone who knows them. Many of the roads are named after family members and family still lives on those roads. Conversation is easy and rolling, news passes from one person to another, with a sing-song lightness. Who fell and who helped them up, who was where when, who’s moving in with who.
We never made it to the Collective to work today, instead I got a taste of what it’s like to live in Gee’s Bend. We just made it on the 8:30AM ferry to Camden, stopping on the way to pick up Mary Ann’s niece Glinda. Breakfast was eggs, grits and a biscuit from a grill at a gas station, the best breakfast place in town according to Mary Ann and the long line of people ahead of us. Cell service is spotty but I got a strong signal outside the Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center, where Mary Ann dropped me off while she ran errands. So I got to talk to Jon, catch up on what’s going on at home and hear his wonderful voice. The Art Center was filled with everything from crafts to painting and sculpture by fine artists, trained and untrained. There was lots I would have liked to take home with me, but settled on a found object mobile, small enough to fit in my suit case.
A couple of hours later, back on the ferry to Gee’s Bend, Mary Ann pointed out the land that used to belong to her Uncle, which is now underwater. It was flooded when the government opened the dam, Mary Ann didn’t know why, just that her Uncle lost his land. Before that, when she was a kid, Mary Ann and the rest of her family would pick cotton on her Uncles land. The money they made was used to buy them their clothes for the year. With a flour sack around her neck she’d pick 100-150lbs a day. They’d work from early in the morning to late at night, stopping for a 30 minute break at lunch time. Picking cucumbers was the worst, she said, they were down on the ground, hard to get at, and you’d have to watch for snakes.
We stopped for lunch at Abrams Place, a small grocery and grill. We had hamburgers and potato sticks and once again everyone who came into the store stopped to chat with Mary Ann and Glinda. It was here I got a good dose of Southern Hospitality. Everyone was warm and friendly.
Every time we started for the Collective Mary Ann thought of something else I should see or someone else I should meet. At the Gee’s Bend Welcome Center, I watched some women quilting. When we left there Mary Ann got a phone call from one of her many friends. There were African drummers and dancers performing at the ABC Elementary School. Only friendly hellos as we walked into the school. We didn’t have to sign in or have tickets or even let anyone know we were coming. And probably the only person that Mary Ann doesn’t know, directed us to the Gym when he over heard us saying we were there to see the drummers. First some of the school girls did a dance then the African drummers and dancer came on. Everyone was clapping, the teachers got up and danced (some reluctantly, but they did it) then the kids danced. Wow Wow means Yes Yes the dancer said. And when prompted, all those little kids yelled Wow! Wow! so loud it hurt my ears.
Ice cream from Abrams Place on the way back home after a few more visits with Mary Ann’s aunts, all quilters. I thought I should ask them questions or take their pictures, but I didn’t. I just sat listening to the easy conversation about people I didn’t know. Letting the experience wash over me like a poem. Getting a feel for what it’s like to live in Gee’s Bend.
6 thoughts on “Wow Wow Gee’s Bend”
So excited for you! I am about 230 miles north of you in Huntsville, Alabama.
Hi Jean, I’m loving Alabama.
Amazing – love your writing – I can tell how blown away you are by your writing – so glad it’s turning out so well!
Love that sentence letting the experience wash over me like a poem. I know just what you mean.
Alabama has grown on me. We moved here in December 1992 when my girls were 7 and 13. They are both married to southern guys now, and our for grandchildren are Alabama born. My oldest grandson (8) loves to quilt with me when he visits.
I’ve hear about more and more boys who are interested in quilting Jean. It a great thing to see.