“Drunk as Cooter Brown”
I moved to Sumter, South Carolina, from Michigan when I was around ten—same year I discovered my joy or writing stories and poems, same year I began learning to sail.
Up until then, I had never seen a black person except on television or in the movies. To my recollection, there were no black people where I lived in the Mitten State, on the Lake Michigan side, near the first knuckle of the little finger. For now, I’ll just say that the encounter occurred at a department store soda fountain and the little girl, maybe four years of age, must’ve been wearing her older brother’s shoes. I dropped my milkshake.
That was my first day in the South. The beginning of so many new and soothing experiences: old oaks, magnolias, grits, pecan pie. You know the drill…
Wherever I worked and wandered in the years after Sumter, I took these with me and often, late at night, looking up at stars while feeling far away, I could conjure up Southern voices and those dazzling sayings from the South.