A Cold Coming (the blog)

The Joneseses blog

FACEBOOK: The Bishops of Haralson County

The House of Bishop


It happened on Cooper Street,
Nexus of now and neverwas.
We’d held the reunion for 75 years now
But no one knew the other
And one of the no ones brought in the box of old photos,
Set them on the table.
“Take them if you want them,” he told me.
“Or put them in the trash.”
The Shoulder Shrugger took his cigarettes and left.
No one could name them, the people in the picture.
I could.
Here was Great Grandpa Bishop, Oscar,
And his first wife, “Etter” Shedd,
Her parents, Omi and Nate,
And their son, Will, beaten to death
For denying someone
A drink of water.
And Aunt Teeler, his sister,
Who lived to 102
And still remembered making dolls with her sister
In the broomstraw.
And on the back of one of the pictures
It said, “Cooper Street.”
So I had this interview with the girl from the TV station,
She had this gap in her teeth.
She was a Palestinian, or Syrian, or something,
Anyway her skin was smooth and brown.
I sat on the steps of the McIntosh cabin at the Reserve
(Only it wasn’t a reserve, and it wasn’t his cabin)
And we weren’t even talking about McIntosh,
But she asked me,
Why this?
And I told her the answer is along the Five Notch Road,
The road I drove to get there,
The road I drove to get back,
That same day,
To Cooper Street,
Somewhere I had never been,
But the photo had been taken there.
So I drove the road,
The road that’s worn into the landscape like a memory.
They call it Highway 5 now, but we remember its name, in places, here and there,
And I was thinking of the Indians who gave the road its name
And of Cooper Street,
And thinking, Why?
And we talk about the Power of Place,
Dripping with pretention and portent,
But it was there, anyway, as I drove down the old Indian Road,
As I turned into the vacant lot where the old mill had been,
The Lois Mill that burned to the ground a few years ago,
Some punks or something,
Looking for the place
The place
Where my grandfather was born,
The one who never finished second grade, never learned to read or write,
Where his mother had died,
Because they didn’t have enough food to eat,
And they called it pelagra, or pollygurry, or pelagara, but no matter how you pronounced it,
You wound up just as dead.
And so there’s this picture of her.
She’s buried at Sweetwater Creek Cemetery,
Just a few miles away,
Next to her baby that died on Christmas.
And my illiterate grandfather remembered that baby, that Christmas,
Like he remembered everything,
Graven in his mind with a different kind of implement.
That Christmas,
Just before the baby got sick,
Playing with Leo in his crib,
And they only got one orange for Christmas back then,
Just the one orange,
And the baby died,
It got a fever and died
And my great grandmother died of pleagara or what-have-you,
Maybe it was cancer,
And the main thing my grandfather recalled,
Going back and forth, to the mill village, to Cooper Street in Douglasville,
Was the vulture
Sitting on the fence post
When the car broke down
That one hot summer day.
My grandfather had asthma
But it didn’t kill him.
He played the guitar, the mandolin, the banjo,
Anything with a string.
He recited the Bible,
But could not read a verse.
And so I was on Cooper Street
And I was holding the photo
And looking at the houses
And trying to match
There was the family, minus my great grandmother, minus the baby
But there were many of them still, outside that house on Cooper Street,
Next to the dirty road and the big wash pot,
Cooking clothes or food,
I do not know
But the houses looked much the same.
There were ways of telling.
Some porches were higher than others, some waist high.
Some of the houses were gone,
Leaving pits in the landscape, vacant grounds,
And my granddaddy used to talk about playing under those porches
With rocks and sticks and spools,
And pretending the rocks were cars, which they could not afford,
Neither the cars nor the toys.
And he didn’t even have shoes.
He didn’t have shoes.
And they made their own instruments, or traded for them,
And so there it was.
The frame, the two houses,
All matching,
There at that intersection with another street, which I cannot remember its name.
And the Five Notch Road had brought me here,
And it had brought all the white “settlers” here,
(We call them settlers. That’s what we call them. There are reasons.)
And those who had lost everything in the War,
Even themselves.
But here was something
Not much, but something,
Here on Cooper Street.
The end of something, and the beginning.
And now no one remembers their names,
And the task was to get rid of them, these photos,
This photo.
But I will not throw them out just yet.
I know the names
Some of them
I know stories
The Five Notch Road can still take me there
It’s only one hour away,
If not years,
If not decades,
Or a century,
And I can still read the writing, faintly, on the back of the picture
And I can see their faces, still,
And that is why.