Holli Harms: I Grew Up (Essay)

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was raised in South Carolina. I make the best slow cook grits with Daufuskie Shrimp and I know football to be the best game ever created by man.

I Grew Up

I grew up in South Carolina catching crawdads in the creek in the backyard, and watching fire ants eat away at dead grasshoppers and clean sand dollars from gray to white. I shot a rifle when I was nine the recoil so hard knocked me right off my feet.

I grew up in the other south not the one you see with parties and girls in white dresses. Not the one where the gentile sip their mint juleps but where the rest us draw hard on our beers and whiskey. Where little boys kill innocent birds with their BB guns and then cry over the body, having been too young to understand what “point and shoot” really meant.  Where a teenage girl can watch black and white porn on the side of a double wide owned by a guy who’s wife had shot him in the leg for sleeping with her best friend. The wife and husband still together though he’s now clumsy and slow on his crutches.

I grew up watching men fish for catfish off of bridges and cook entire pigs in pits. The crisp long ears of the pig given to the babies to keep them quiet. I grew up watching gators cross bicycle paths and walking paths and roads.  I grew up with the myth of the cottonmouth. Myth. Because they do not drop out of trees into your boats, their babies don’t attack you and they don’t lay eggs.  I know.  I watched one lose her babies as my dad was killing her. He hated the water my dad, he hated snakes even more and when he saw that snake swimming towards his seven year old he waded into that lake water and scooped up the snake with his pruning shears and beheaded her right there as the live babies fell from her insides. I did not stop screaming. Not for a long time. Not until each of the babies had been murdered and their blood had mixed with the Carolina clay.

In High School we would hike the cliffs of Green Hole the abandoned quarry and fly out over the murky green water on ropes and fall into its bottomless legend. We were told as kids that dead bodies were stuck deep down there. It was we were told, where the missing could be found. We were swimming in the warm bottomless water at one end of the quarry and watching the cottonmouths swim in and out of the sunken railroad car at the other end. Hundreds of snakes. Snakes. Cottonmouths, copperheads.The south is full of them. Some that slither and crawl and some that walk upright. I grew up seeing crosses on lawns burn bright with their red hot hate. With statements like “we all know our place and we keep it.”

I grew up watching girls in ballgowns crawl onto pool tables and shoot the balls into all the pockets they had called. Number 4 in side, 3 in back and 7 front. Boom, boom boom and then climb back down and dance the shag with their date.

I was never a debutante. I went to my High School senior prom stag.  And I danced with girlfriends and teachers and my principal. I was in a beauty pageant. We all were. Middle school, junior high, high school.  I won 4th place in the Columbia Junior Miss pageant. It was enough. I had no aspirations. I won for talent. I did a monologue from the Belle of Amherst. The girls who did not win, never won, were the ones who did the Scarlett O’Hara monologue from Gone with the Wind. Miming pulling the carrot from the dirt, eating it and then throwing it up. Some mimed the throw up. Some had real carrots and left chewed up pieces on stage.  All of them chanting, “As God is my witness, as God is my witness, as God is my witness!”

I grew up in the south where women wear pretty white dresses and no underwear and play spin the bottle with coke bottles and where everything is a “coke” until otherwise specified.

Where I sat in the woods holding the head of the football player as he threw up and threw up and threw up. Too much beer, too much pot, too much. We were far in the woods. No one could see us. But I could hear them. The lake by us an echo chamber. The sounds bouncing off its black shiny surface. I could hear them calling for him, wondering where he was. No one called for me or wondered about me. I was not that girl and I knew it. This moment with this boy would be my only. I held his head and kept his hair back, his long teenage boy hair and I let him have a swig of my whiskey when he was done, just a swig to clear his mouth. I whispered in his ear, “I love you Sam Estepp,” knowing he would never remember.

All of us at that lake, those woods; the football players, the band people, the jocks, the freaks and the frocks – those who could pass between jock and freak. All of there drinking and dancing and throwing up and passing out. All of us, black and white and asian and hispanic holding hands being together because we knew we were all Southerners no matter what. We were Southerners. And we knew what having a good time meant. What believing we could live forever meant.

I grew up in a place like any other place with hate and love and character and wants and fears and direction and staggering beauty and numbing horror. I grew up.