Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

What My Father Left Behind in the Fire

Erin Oxendine

I have always heard that the sins of the parents become the sins of the children. That how you are raised is a sign of the type of an adult you will become. I don't believe this is true.

When I was little we lived in South Carolina in an old white wooden house that was located about forty miles from the nearest anything. Our house was built a few miles off the banks of the swampy Edisto River. My two sisters, my brother, and I would run every day down the long winding dirt road leading to the river and swim in the cool murky water. On the way back, we would always stop off and look for arrowheads in the dirt.

My father farmed and my mother ran a country general store. I always thought our life was good. But we were very poor and everyone around us knew it. Apparently, they could just take one look at our unkempt hair, our dirt-smeared faces, the old hand-me-down thrift clothes...I guess we just didn't fit in. Even as a kid, I recognized that.

I remember going to a Southern Baptist Church, a fire and brimstone kind of church where everyone knew everyone else. And like the previous Sunday before that one, we were late. My two sisters and my brother and I would always come in a few minutes after the sermon started, pushing and shoving to get the seat closest to the back of the church. There was no way were we going to sit up and front and actually have to listen to anything the preacher said. The congregation would always turn around to see what the commotion was and then nod to each other with a knowing distrustful look on their face. It was like they were mocking us and we knew it. My mom would not even go there on Sunday. She would just drop us off and come back later, blowing the horn if we were not out then. I think she was mad at the life she had been dealt and turned her back on God.

It was a tough life for a child. We never knew if we would have enough to eat when the crops were not good because that meant my dad would not get a lot of money for that season. We were so poor I actually thought food stamps were what real money was. When my mom would give us a dollar food stamp to go get a coke and a moon pie, well, that was a big deal. To make matters worse, my parents argued and fought and the sounds of their angry yelling always filled the air instead of the warm, soothing sounds I yearned to hear.

When I was six years old, about a week after Christmas, I woke to the sound of my mom screaming for us all to get up. I quickly realized that our house was on fire. We tried to get out the front door but could not get the door to open. I remember standing in the only bedroom that was not engulfed in flames, staring out the window, not knowing if I would make it out. I also vividly recall seeing my father standing outside casually looking back at the house. Our eyes met and for a second he looked at me and I looked at him, and then just as quickly, I saw him turn away. It was a moment where I was frozen in time, and a moment that I would re-live over and over as an adult.

After what seemed like hours but in reality were only minutes, we finally managed to rip off a screen and climb out without any help from my father whatsoever. We lost everything.

My life as a child ended that night and I only saw my father a few times over the next four years. When I was fifteen, one of my sisters contacted him and eventually moved in with him. This sister and I were very close at the time and I missed her so much that I left my mom's house as well and went to live with her and the father I barely knew. For the next two years, I tried to start up a relationship with him again but found it impossible, as he made it his goal in life to tell me every other day that I would never amount to anything.

After I graduated from high school, I moved out and started living my life. I made it my goal to never look back on my poor-as-dirt upbringing or the father who had turned his back on me. I put myself through college and received a degree. I married, had a son, and got a career in the legal field. I saw my father after that mostly on holidays and a few times here and there. I moved to North Carolina and have only returned to South Carolina a few times.

I have had many accomplishments and dreams realized in the past years. Yet there are times when I find myself wanting to tell my father how good my life turned out. To show him that I did amount to something and that it was his choice to walk away and leave me in that house, and that I rose from the fire and came away a better person because of it. Unfortunately, my father passed away three months ago. My much-needed conversation with him never transpired.

I suppose deep down I have always known that that my father has been gone since I was six years old, since that night that he turned away from me. I also know that six year old little girl is forever gone but not forgotten. She just has a different outlook on life.


Erin Oxendine was born and raised in South Carolina, but has resided in North Carolina for the past five years with her husband and their two kids. She received her degree from Newberry College. She works full time as a paralegal and a part-time freelance writer. In her spare time, she is an online contributor for health and fitness for Erin is currently writing her first fiction novel. Her hobbies include art and writing.


© Erin Oxendine

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2009