Karen Rosenberg offered sessions on May 6.

For Karen’s WAW session, ten brilliant writers gathered across time zones and weather patterns to write and deeply listen to each other. They wrote the stories of names chosen either from memory or imagination. To connect with Karen you can email her at: karen@karenrosenberg.com

Alma: The Story of A Name by Lindsey-Loon Ricker

My grandmother’s name was Alma. Her name means soul, or that’s what I’ve been told. 

Alma was a girl who liked to run barefoot to the creek and swing in on the rope swing, crash through the cool water that offered a refreshing portal away from the heat of a Hendersonville North Carolina summer. It got hot even in the mountains. 

“I was a farm girl, honey,” she told me. “We caught frogs and let them loose, we swam in the creek.” 

Or did they catch frogs? I don’t know, I’m probably making that up. There’s a lot to make up where my grandmother is concerned. She didn’t mean to be mysterious, I just didn’t ask the right questions. They were precious years I had with her, and now she’s gone. Precious, that’s such a weak word for the woman who made the best buttery salty grits in the world, who laughed like a little girl, and who always always giggled at my jokes, even the not-funny ones. 

She would love that I’m doing standup comedy now. I think she would have a pride in the fact that a chunk of my comedy is about the Hilbilly side of my family— the squirrel hunters, the mechanics and farmers, the guitar-and-banjo-thumping, moonshine-sipping, hoot-and-holler-joy-of-life-living mountain people. 

But when you talk about the white American South it’s there’s an instant catch in the throat, an instant wariness. Because of the shredding of dignity that is a racist legacy. A racist legacy of a country poorly stitched back together after the Civil War, a region that violated civil rights long after the battles ended. Our whole country is haunted by the horrors of slavery, Jim Crow, institutionalized and individualized fear and hatred. Though I know in the mountain communities farmers of all ethnicities often came together to trade and barter, to help each other out. Love lived here too.

I can’t know for certain that side of my family has a legacy of kindness, but then again who can. So many families are marred by alcoholism or drug addiction, rageaholics, cheaters, and liars, and absentee parents, none of us are spotless. Yet that huge gaping scar of human rights violations slashes along the history of The South, it is monumental and should be recognized for its horror. I do not want to gloss over that in the banjo lullaby of Hilbilly charm. 

But my grandma was kind in every moment that I saw her on earth, and I saw her with a multitude of people. She cooked for anyone, she laughed with everyone, she smelled like white shoulders perfume and her hands were soft. She knitted and crochet and did lapidary— seeing the beauty even in dirty rocks, polishing them to shine like treasures. And her name meant Soul, and she stitched herself to an idea of Jesus I could never fully grasp. Never fully grasp because of my Jewish identity and the stubbornness within me that holds on to my mother’s heritage and refuses to trespass into other traditions. But I’m curious of that power and that Grace and graciousness that was tied to Alma’s church community. Whatever faith or social traditions she came from, my grandmother did live into the promise of generosity, the warmth of spirit, that is the name soul. 

Thank you for joining us for Write Around the World!

For the rest of the summer, watch our blog! We are sharing writing from AWA’s yearly marathon fundraiser, which happened this year all-online throughout the month of May.

We offer this series in appreciation for the incredible community of writers and workshop leaders that sustain us. If you’re inspired and would like to be part of the fundraiser, please donate!