Food for Thought – Ode to “Mudbound” and Memory

I was going to post about salt this week, but I watched a movie instead. The movie is profoundly moving and made me start thinking about my past and present. “Mudbound” is  the movie I am talking about. Have you seen it?

Personal memory can often seem like a movie script. I think we all  carry images that seem like they are both real and unreal, with a filmy overlay softening what our minds can cope with at any given time. Good memories and troubling ones at the same time. Movies can provide structure and meaning to memories, movies can bring light to those  things kept hidden, movies are coping mechanisms.

These are the things that were remembered while watching “Mudbound”….

Riding to my “whites only” school in my “whites only” school bus in the early morning passing the “blacks only” school. Looking out the window, on my way to a classic American style brick school with new books, a packed library and good hot lunches….at what was basically a shack set up off the ground on brick-o blocks sitting on a flat dirt yard with no trees for shade, no ceiling fans, no new school books, no kitchen for hot lunches. No paint and barely a front door. A few black children playing in the dusty yard. I did not know until much later that the new books we were given at the first of every school year…the social  studies, history, geography books…would be the books used by those children next year. The cast offs, the written in. Our doodles and marks would be passed on.

My best friend’s grandfather owned the Esso station in our small community. It was where, on long summer days and after school we would go to get a Coke and Moon Pie and just hang out a bit listening to gossip and goofing off. It was where the bathroom door marked “Colored” was seldom used.

I had never been inside a black person’s  home until an accident called for it. While  riding in car…a big, old black Ford that still had the scratchy seats,  roll down windows and no car seats….that I accidentally, while the car driven by my uncle was slowly making a curve in the gravel country road, pushed down on the front door handle and fell out! Not completely, as I held on to the dashboard for dear life. My eyes were full of dust and debris from the gravel. Stopping the car he took me to the nearest house. I do not know who the woman was, but her house was like a “Mudbound” shack. She welcomed us in and she washed out my eyes and soothed me. My uncle knew her and she was kind. I had also never really looked at an elderly black person before as we were always told “not to stare”. But this woman’s face is forever etched in my memory. She was white-haired and very dark with lovely soft eyes that were bloodshot. Her house smelled like woody smoke and was dark with few windows, but a front porch and flowers. No electricity nor indoor plumbing. Her light was kerosene lanterns. There were doilies on all the furniture. I have always had a silly and ridiculous affection for the idea of a “shack”.

For me “Mudbound” was personal. For Wouter, who is from Amsterdam, I think more a horrify bit of American history that never ceases to stun him. It is a heartbreaker, it is a historical sore laid open, it is both very beautiful and ugly. It is so worth seeing. It’s Oscar time…watch a movie.