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Where the real and the unreal meet
By Jody Rathgeb
Editor's Note: Here's a tip—read the author's short story, "Slave Hands," first.
You might think that a story like “Slave Hands” began with a real-life little kid, a personal experience or at least some schoolyard talk. But it didn’t. It started in two different bars and with two grown island men.
The first was Clifford Gardiner, owner of the hotel on North Caicos where I used to stay before we built a house there. In those early days of my visits, I wanted to learn more of the island history than tourists are given. I had been to Wade’s Green, the ruins of an American Loyalist plantation, and asked Clifford to tell me more about it.
“Nothing to tell. They grew cotton, and when the crop failed, they left.” Clifford had been born on North, but either he didn’t know or didn’t care about his own island’s history.
Several years later, I was in a South Caicos bar talking with some local guys, because that’s what you do when you miss the plane to North and are stranded overnight. I asked one man his last name, because that’s also what you do in a Turks and Caicos bar...find out which of his cousins you know or whose family on North has a branch on South.
Oddly, he didn’t want to tell me his surname. I pushed. “No, no,” he said. I’d been drinking enough to push more, and joked that maybe it was Hitler?
He looked at me seriously. “Kinda like that,” he said. “It’s Stubbs.”
I was baffled. There are lots of Stubbses in the islands. So he explained to me that if you are black and named Stubbs, it means your people were the slaves of one of the Stubbs brothers, the white plantation owners of the 1700s. The man was ashamed to admit that he was descended from slaves.
Many years later, those bar conversations would create my fictional Joseph Stubbs, 10 years old and embarrassed by the girl he loves because of his big hands. Even as I wrote him, I was prodding the poor kid. “C’mon, Jospeh. This is your history. Own it. Not with anger, but with pride and class.”
#Real #Unreal #History #HistoricalFiction #BlackHistory #AfricanAmerican #AmericanHistory #BlackFolklore #Memory
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