Daddy mixed cement, sand and water in the wheelbarrow. I don't recall a mixer. I believe it was the wheelbarrow and he mixed it with a hoe. After he smoothed the concrete, I put my hands into the thick gray mud and we scratched the date below the imprint. Maybe my sister's hand prints were there, too. I cannot remember. I know her hand prints were beside mine on the carport.
Our hand prints were real -- short, chubby, child fingers preserved forever in homemade concrete.
* * * * * * * *
Jim Creed was the deacon at Round Peak Primitive Baptist Church. He was a large bald man before bald became chic. He had gruff ways. In his youth, he had killed a man though I do not remember the circumstances. It was probably over a still. It was always over a still. Yes, a moonshine still. All the cliches, all the stereotypes, they are true.Everyone made liquor as my Grandpa said. Everybody.
So, Mr. Creed was in prison, I think, when one of his children died. He was kind. He brought us candy, brown bags of hard candy and peppermints, just sacks of candy. He gave them to us children before the Saturday church conference meetings. He wore a pocket watch with a chain and he unlocked the door for church. When Daylight Savings Time was instituted, he did not follow it.
God, he said, was on Eastern Standard Time.
He made tombstones for his children, for a niece, from concrete. He pressed marbles, quartz, a necklace, into the form. He scratched their names into the gray mud. These markers were beautiful, so heartfelt, so pure. I ran my hands over the rough concrete, the smooth marbles, the indentations where pearls had slipped away. Lichen clung to the stones; moss crept into the cracks. It was as if the concrete markers were an organic thing--made from sand, from dust, from ash, from heartache, from sweat.
* * * * * * * *
When our first house burned, the concrete porch was left. It was covered in black ashes, molten glass, warped and blackened window frames. The carport was covered, too, with charred wood and heaps of ash. Wisps of smoke in the sunshine. . . . the acrid smell of a couch (newly upholstered), a bedroom wall with drawings of bunny families, baby quilts and a bunting bag, kitchen cabinets with oatmeal and brown sugar, new winter coats in the front closet, the cradle that Uncle Willie made, the new rooms, the--new rooms that would have been our bedrooms in our teenage years. The smell of loss seeped into our lungs, into our bloodstream, drew pictures of this day in our brains.
The concrete was there, blackened, but it was there. Our hand prints were filled with ash. The basement filled with ash. Mama sifted through them for days, looking for her wedding band. She never found it.
Days later, the remains of our home were bulldozed. The concrete was shoved up, broken, dropped, covered up. But it is there. Somewhere in the ground, our hand prints remain. . . . .
They were real. Don't tell me they were not real.
Photo by J. Denise Coalson, taken from Round Peak Primitive Baptist Church, Surry County, NC