People | Legacies

When There Is No Option to Forget: How My Family Shares Our Stories of Survival

“I felt as though I’d been inducted into a special society of survivors.”

One pale, humid summer evening, the kind that threatens to suffocate you in damp air, my friend Mary and two of her coworkers dropped by my house for a glass of wine. Mary and I have been friends since we were awkward, gangly teenagers at a summer arts camp, twenty-odd years ago. She now works for a nonprofit/academic hybrid that chronicles Black American history—often Black history in Charleston, where we live.

cracking up

Something in that unabashed laughter, heard and recreated by my friend, makes you wonder how it was possible to live every day facing such widespread, systemic oppression from the Ku Klux Klan and groups like it. The memories must be bitter, and the cruelty that created them is revolting. But laughter and camaraderie like the kind my friend Mary relayed to us can make even stories in which the KKK played a part seem more bearable when there is no option to forget.

Post, then went outside to help my kids with their lemonade stand.

Due to weather and ensuing traffic backups, I was rerouted along a tedious albeit picturesque route on U.S. 29 as I entered Virginia. At least I’m in for a pleasant drive, I thought.

They never heard from those people again,” Dad said between chuckles.

There’s a large generational gap between my parents and me. I’d always found the stories they shared with their friends to be special, yet somehow removed from my own life and experiences. But now our stories seemed to exist on a similar plane.

We’ve all caught a glimpse of—or lived in—places where hate lies and festers and lashes out in the sneakiest ways. It is frightening. It is extremely dangerous. Sometimes, the best defense is just to share the stories, and find a way to laugh.