This was as close as I’d get to a plantation on my Southern tour. (Yes, Southerners, I know you don’t like people using that word. But “plantation” is simply how we Northerners distinguish–and imagine–farm settings around the country. We up here have our Old McDonald, Charlotte’s Web-style farms. The American West has sprawling ranches. And the South has rolling plantations with big white, pillared homes.)
Mrs. Lorna Cambron Light’s house didn’t have pillars, but inside did feature the “Sunday-afternoon” styling that struck me as uniquely Southern.
Mrs. Light and her family were uniquely Southern as well.
By this I mean they were their own blend of down-home yet world-traveled; hospitable to strangers yet close-knit with family; educated & intellectual yet not stuffy; living by principles yet open to change for the better.
Here is a slice of their life as well as their thoughts on the South and the US.
The home rested on a few half-wooded, half-fielded acres outside small town New Hope–which is outside big town Huntsville in northern Alabama.
Huntsville is worthy of an article all its own, being known for its NASA presence, high rate of PhD’s, and equally high income levels. Just a few miles southeast is New Hope. Here I saw a Confederate flag or two flying and felt the sanitation of city life evaporate to reveal the rawness of rurality.
After a stretch of narrow, cracked pavement, I found the address I was looking for.
Lorna was another Couchsurfing connection, the web community through which I had arranged several of my hosts and stops on this trip–such as Emilia back in Hot Springs and more to come in Tennessee and West Virginia.
I wasn’t staying a night in Alabama. But on this evening of July 30, Lorna was happy to show and share about their life in this corner of our country.
Almost as soon as Lorna greeted me did another member of her family approach to join.
“I grew up less than a mile down the road in the house that my mother was born in,” Lorna said early on in our conversation. “My whole family lives here.”
It wasn’t long before Lorna’s brother Chris came into the house:
Minutes later, Lorna’s mother Ava and step-father Charlie stopped by:
In all, Lorna and I talked for almost two hours, the conversation decorated and steered by these visitors.
These visitors are what make this place special to Lorna.
“We’ve lived in Spain and Germany and lived all over,” she said of her and husband Steve.
Steve, originally from Colorado, works for the US Army Corp of Engineers helping to build factories to safely dismantle old munitions. Steve’s involvement with the armed forces had them on the go during their early years together. After starting a family, however, Lorna sought the security and comfort that only home can provide.
“After I had two babies, I said I wanted to go home.” Lorna said. “I wanted to raise my children in a place where there was community, where I could leave my children with someone and trust them.”
While close with her family, Lorna also recognizes how her early life had blazed new trails. Her grandmother married at 15 and had her first child at 16. Lorna’s own mother started having children at 17. Lorna began motherhood at 27.
“I broke the cycle,” she stated. “Educationally, as well. I’ve got my master’s degree. My daughter’s working on hers now.”
Lorna used her education and talents while raising her family here in New Hope.
“I have done all the children’s programming at our local library for over 20 years,” she said.
Lorna was also “at the school almost everyday,” she said, volunteering as school nurse (her profession before motherhood).
The benefit of being home (and in a small town): “I have children now who come to story time at the library, whose parents were there as children,” she said. “That’s small town.”
Small town, big family, big Thanksgivings.
“50-60 people,” said Lorna.
In walked her brother Chris, taking a break from working on a tractor.
Chris lives nearby, has a hobby farm of his own and works for an area utility company. He also offered some examples of the trickiest drawl I was yet to decipher.
“Torch gov?!” I asked with confusion when trying to repeat a phrase he had just said.
“Towards the Gulf [of Mexico],” translated Lorna.
And soon Papa Charlie and Mama Ava entered the farm house. Talk centered around the need for Lorna to come get some cucumbers, for Chris to return Mama Ava’s jars, and the need to check Ava and Charlie’s tomatoes while they’re out of town.
Ava led most of the conversation while Charlie chilled.
“This family has very strong women,” he’d later say. “Even the two-year-old.”
Before retirement, Charlie had worked in Washington DC for the Navy as an analyst.
Chris had to run. Lorna, Ava, and Charlie shared about this area’s culture and history–and how they see themselves in it.
“The Yankees camped on the Drake plantation,” Ava explained. “The Drakes had to leave, or they would have been killed.”
Ava is a Drake, a name that goes way back in these parts. This tie-in provides rich acknowledgement of the history and a deep understanding of the area.
“There’s a walnut tree in the yard of the church that has a big scar in it,” she said when describing how the North army had burned down their town during the Civil War.
Is there a scar in you?” I asked.
“Do you hold grudges?”
“No. What they did then doesn’t have any effect on how we get along now,” she said.
I was struck by her recognition of the past–for it was unaccompanied by bitterness. But this was simply how this family thought.
“I identify as a Southerner, but not more than an American,” said Lorna.
“Nobody’s a Yankee up there anymore,” added Ava.
Their acknowledgement did stretch to include, though, how their outlook differs from many in the area.
Other parts of county feel like a foreign country, said Ava.
Observing the rift between Northern ambivalence about the Civil War and Southern bitterness about it, Charlie shared that, “The losers never forget and the winners never remember.”
But this family appeared to remember, alright, but minus any negativity. They offered a plain-spoken and honest look at the recent past of this part of the South.
“I can remember the KKK taking up money alongside the road in New Hope,” said Ava, who also added a story about having a client ask her if she wanted to see his uniform and showing her his white robe.
Recalling their own grandparents’ words, Ava shared with laughter her grandmother wishing the KKK would come to the aid of a woman whose drunkard husband abused her (in video below). News to me was this apparent victim’s advocate community service the KKK had back in the day.
Regarding social matters today, this family offered a rare split–though with typical harmony.
“I will cancel his vote when we vote for president,” Ava said with a laugh about her and husband Charlie.
“He is very liberal, very Democrat. We are Republican,” Lorna added. “But I hate Donald Trump, she continued. “I don’t know what I’m going to do in this election. I don’t like anybody.”
Charlie spoke up offering his thoughts on Trump, “If he gets elected, he’ll get impeached.”
I guess we’ll have that chance to find out.
I asked Charlie if he was a Bernie or Hillary supporter.
“I don’t want to tell you.” he said with a chuckle.
The bashfulness in the South to admit support for a democratic candidate was the opposite of what I experience in the Twin Cities.
Lastly, I asked them about Southern misconceptions.
“Everybody assumes people are racist down here, but we’re not,” said Charlie. “You have more problems up there (the North) than we do down here.”
Inside dwelt conversations about the South.
Outside was the farm. After wrapping up our discussion, Lorna and granddaughter Hannah offered me a tour as dusk stole the light.
Beyond a field for the horses were sparse woods for sheltering the smaller animals…
…such as the guinea fowl:
Chickens chilled around the coop:
Hannah gave chase:
Time to say goodnight to the chickens…
…but not before taking the days’ eggs…
…that Hannah decided to simply throw to the ground to Grandma’s displeasure:
Finally, a goodnight to the family potbelly pig:
The pig offered a goodnight of his own: a guttural moaning wail in response to anyone’s touch–to which I responded with immediate concern for his wellness.
“He’s just grumpy and doesn’t want to be touched,” said Lorna in a casual manner that to me seemed almost playful with her delightful Southern accent. She would know. She’s the farmer.
I was lucky enough to have gained some of their knowledge and wisdom about potbelly pigs–as well as matter’s more significant to my heart: the South, American history, and family relations.
Thanks to their generosity and openness–and thanks to the web community Couchsurfing.com that connected us–I was able to experience this comfortable lifestyle of Southern charm and delights, a pleasant walk along the woods and fields in Alabama dusk.
Here is the footage of my arrival, our conversation, and our tour of the farm.