Someone would think to call oneself a Steel Magnolia is a paradox. I suppose that at the crux of my being I am a paradox. I am a liberal and a conservative; I am a saint, and I am a sinner; I am at times made of unbuckling steel, and at others, I’m as genteel as a soft, southern Magnolia.
I am like the steel buildings that have risen from the ashes of the antebellum landscape of the south. I am ever changing. As the magnolia stretches its roots deep into the red Georgia clay, so are my roots inextricably bound to the culture of the south, of Georgia, and of Cherokee County.
I am a true child of the old south. I was reared on raucous family reunions with plates teeming with golden fried chicken, garden fresh corn, okra, and green beans, homemade pound cake, and sugary sweet tea out of a mason jar. I am from that Old Time Religion of fire and brimstone preaching, sweltering summer revivals, walking down into the watery grave of baptism and being reborn in the blood of the Lamb. I am from an oral tradition spun by the adults of my family around the dining room table on Sundays as well as from the cocooned safety of grandmother’s lap. All of this has been both the “miracle grow” and “the welding” of my soul.
It has taken a steely character, an unflinching faith, and a tremendous resolve to see me through the darkest times of my life. Cancer came with fiendish delight devouring my innocence with its ravenous appetite.
If someone is not made of steel then how is it possible for them watch as their father wastes away to resemble someone who has wandered out of a concentration camp? To watch a heartless and unfeeling disease degrade him from a fiercely independent man to a diapered and helpless shell of his former self. Seventeen years old, two weeks away from high school graduation and I sat before my father’s casket on a bleak, rainy Sunday. Taps, a 21 gun salute, and then a kneeling soldier presented me with a folded flag, “On behalf of a grateful nation..” Only one month after being diagnosed, Soft Tissue Sarcoma, an Agent Orange related cancer, cut my father's life short at fifty-one.
Five years later, Cancer came calling again. This time it was for my best friend, my rock of support, my hero: my mama. My mama, another Steel Magnolia, a history teacher, a loyal friend, and a faithful daughter of Christ, was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, a spider-like brain tumor. Its tendrils had embedded deep into her brain robbing her of her memory, her ability to speak, and ultimately the hope of survival. Only a month after her diagnosis, she passed away peacefully in the home that she grew up in, surrounded by her family and friends. Her death shattered me into a thousand jagged pieces from which I’ll never be whole again.
To be orphaned at twenty-three would devastate anyone. Ordinarily, you would buckle under the pressure and snap. There have been many times when I felt myself dying from the inside. Death, despair, and disillusionment had broken me. I willed myself to succumb to the hardening winter that crushed my spirit. But then a spring time would enter my soul, and I would be rejuvenated with faith and a hardened determination to go on.
After each tragedy and each heartache, I am only stronger. I have seen that nothing can tear down the steely resolve of my character and no disease can truly kill my roots.