Sand Hill Girl

by Angela Belcher Epps

“I escaped the capacity to feel bitterness, sulk, resign myself to the notion of failure or buckle in the face of hardship. In the wildness of rural living, I became equal to all things.’

When Mona, Julie and I were young, we would race to the north side of my house, lift the hems of our buttery-soft cotton dresses and pee in unison. We made deep, specific holes in the sand that vanished in a remarkably short span of time. We knew a freedom, us girls, that defied reason. We were strong, sturdy-limbed, all the same height but with different shades of brown skin, different grades of kinky hair and temperaments as different as a sun shower, a hurricane and a blizzard.

We shared secrets whispered between cupped hands into unwashed ears. We cooked savory stews of wood chips, weeds and water pumped from the ground. We broke the harmony of lazy summer days by fighting and wrestling, outrunning the boys, threatening with BB guns and occasionally firing an intentional “accidental” shot. We smoked the butts of my grandfather’s Camels beneath our shelter and jumped from low rooftops, landing on our feet. We frequently fell skidding across the earth, leaving behind fragments of skin and exposing bloodied flesh.

Mona, Julie and I were a small band among a neighborhood army, a part of the larger community, but so much an entity unto ourselves. I loved them fiercely. I loved them because in their able little bodies I saw reflections of myself–sassy, capable, vicious and enterprising. We knew everything. We were everything. We could do anything. We took seven cents and walked down long, sandy roads to buy Popsicles in the cool, dank daytime barrenness of Buddy Cherry’s juke joint. We handed my blind cousin our coins and marveled at his ability to count money without the assistance of eyes. We walked back satisfied and happy with echoes of jukebox music trailing behind us, while cool grape syrup dripped down filthy fingers that we licked clean.

We dipped dirt like snuff, then chewed and swallowed the grit. We ate evergreen leaves and stuck our tongues into the terminals of nine-volt Eveready batteries. We caught bumblebees in jars and stalked dragonflies, catching them by the tail and entertaining them until their wings cracked and disintegrated. We played running, chasing, screaming games in the dark–ending our days only when mosquitoes swarmed our heads too thickly to ignore.

At the age of 10, we went our separate ways–Mona and I heading North to live with our respective mothers after beginning our lives in the care of grandparents. Julie was left behind, I expect suffering a loneliness that I know I felt without the company of my small clan. These girls–my first best friends–gave me a sense of all that was possible in the world. In our daring to seize every bit of drama and mirth from each day was born a passion for living that did not diminish. For as I grew into a charming and intelligent preadolescent, a brooding and rebellious teenager, and a searching and tempestuous young woman, a tenacious little spirit did push-ups in the comers of my psyche, preparing to escort me through all the challenges to be faced as a full-grown woman.

No dainty, helpless female was I. In the wildness of rural living, I became equal to all things. I escaped the capacity to feel bitterness, sulk, resign myself to the notion of failure or buckle in the face of impending hardship. The dirt, the sweat, the glee and all that I knew in those freewheeling days coalesced into a potent tonic for my soul, forever reminding me that I am tough. I am a Sand Hill girl.

It’s been decades since I’ve seen Mona or Julie. I know that they both married and had children. Mona stayed up North while Julie remained in our hometown. I’ve seen each of them only once since adulthood. Looking back, I can say that our brief reunions were memorable. Our hugs were wide and engulfing. Our eyes glinted, reflecting the bond of excitement that I believe is only created among early playmates. My heart literally flailed with expectancy. Though we shared only minutes, there was that edge-of-the-seat feeling as we spoke, that what-happened-next urgency in our questions. I knew that whatever good or bad they’d encountered was weathered with a heartiness, and that the gathering of tales along the way would more than likely include episodes not meant for the faint of heart.

In the different stages of my life, I, too, have run into some rough terrain. I’ve watched love ebb in barely perceptible spasms, suffered the disappointing agony of betrayal and endured the self-deprecating guilt of breaking someone’s heart. I’ve lain awake for nights on end, searching for answers, praying for clarity, mentally charting the course toward healthier relationships, more fulfilling jobs, a simpler life. At every juncture, a sturdy, prepubescent angel has finally risen, stood with hands on hips and reminded me that I have experience with landing on my feet from great heights. She whispers that no matter what the outcome might be, I have always found pleasure in small but remarkable things. She assures me that each day I am reborn, and one morning I’ll awaken to find that any trouble that has found its way into my life will have disappeared–just like the holes made by three little Sand Hill girls peeing in unison at the side of the house.

by Angela Belcher Epps, Essence