Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Solomon Point

River Huffman


The box was heavy for its size, like a dictionary or family Bible. I carried it with both hands onto Uncle Lyman's pontoon and held it on my knee while ten relatives followed me on board. A dozen more, in straw hats and sunglasses, waited on the barren bank at Solomon Point. It was 103 degrees that day.

During the ride to the middle of the river, someone asked if I'd been there before. I looked at the sandy dirt and brown grass and solitary, lifeless tree presiding over it all. Nothing familiar, but...

"Yeah, I came when I was nine years old, with Uncle Beet and Aunt Martha. We were on our way back from a family reunion."



Uncle Beet leaned his elbows on the steering wheel of his '64 Impala. The windows were down, and Aunt Martha's white scarf was flapping behind her head. I rode silently in the back next to the aluminum cooler and stared out at the boundless cotton quivering in the sun.

"Can we stop by Solomon Point?" Aunt Martha asked. "I want to walk down to where we used to play by the river."

Uncle Beet's only response was to look at his watch, but a couple of minutes later - without a word - he swung the Impala down a dirt lane and passed the tenant house where Mama and Aunt Martha grew up. Dirty-faced kids stared from their perch on a rusty plow.

Uncle Beet stopped at the base of the levee and looked again at his watch. "I'm gonna add a quart of oil and have me a cold drink. Will ya'll be ready in ten minutes?"

I used my legs to push the heavy door open, then followed Aunt Martha across the levee, struggling to keep up with her long strides.

"Why is the river so big?" I asked.

"Because it takes in from smaller, swifter rivers."

"Why is it so slow?"

"Because it's wide and deep and on level ground. Slow and steady, that's what makes it so powerful." She turned her head to gaze first at the river, squinting above high cheekbones, then further back to me. "You remember that. Slow, steady, and patient. Take in everything you can."

I didn't understand.

We walked a short piece and stopped where the bank was reinforced with concrete. She removed her shoes and waded a couple yards out, looking downriver as if she expected one last glimpse of things passed.

She told me not to wander off and to be careful, but before our ten minutes were up, I fell on the steep slope and skinned my knee badly. It burned and bled and despite my best effort, tears streamed down my cheeks. Aunt Martha removed her white scarf and dipped it in the river. She wiped my tears, cleaned the wound, and tied the scarf around my knee. Then she stepped into her shoes and led me back to the car.

Uncle Beet was pacing, blowing cigar smoke and pulling at his sweaty plaid shirt. "What happened to him?" he snapped.

"He fell on the concrete and hurt his knee."

He scratched his red face. "Good. He needs to fall on concrete and hurt his knee. He needs to learn that concrete don't give. The sooner he learns that, the fewer scars he'll have."

Wisdom I could relate to. By the time the Impala was rolling again I understood it completely. And as the years rolled by, it never lost its effectiveness. I've recalled it often. Concrete doesn't give. It can't alter its shape to accommodate your ineptitude any more than The System can yield to individual mistakes. You fall, you skin your knee; you don't do your lessons, you get a bad grade; you don't work, you don't get paid; you break the law, you go to jail. Can't beat the odds. Can't change your fate. Can't make a woman love you.

Absolutely right, sir - concrete does not give...

 

"We're ready for those."

I realized the pontoon was idling and one of my cousins was nodding toward the box on my knee. I stood, removed the bag of ashes, and poured them carefully over the side.

Someone said, "Goodbye, Aunt Martha" and a few rose petals were tossed at the sinking gray mound. On the bank they sang "I'll Fly Away" as the boat lingered several minutes, going in circles.

On one of our last turns I caught sight of something familiar I had missed at first - the concrete slabs where I had fallen years before. They were cracked, crumbling, and slipping into the slow, muddy current.

I sat down, studied my scarred hands, then directed my attention up river.

***

River Huffman is a Tennessee-based musician, writer, and "interpreter" of the Southern experience. Solomon Point was inspired by an actual incident.

© River Huffman

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012