Elouise Kellum of Wilmington, North Carolina

Stephanie: Well, Grandma this may seem kind of strange to be doing from the grave, but I appreciate the time you are making to talk with me a bit.

Elouise: Well, I’m glad to be here with you, Steffie.

So, Grandma, I’m going to do my best to keep this interview real. If any time we get disconnected, let’s take a break and come back later, ok?

Elouise: Sure, honey.

Stephanie: Okay; Grandma, one of the reasons that I wanted to interview you is because I always think of you as someone who never had to “do anything” to be so darn special in people’s lives. This is so different from my own nature, so I think about it a lot. I know that you always connected to people although you were never much directly in other people’s lives.

Elouise: Well, what do you mean?

Stephanie: Oh, I just mean that I also see you smiling at people and people know who you are, but looking back, I never saw you with a friend, been over to anybody’s house-stuff like that.

Elouise: Well, yeah. It wasn’t really easy when your Granddaddy wasn’t alive and then your mama can’t go to stranger’s houses-you know how she gets, if that’s what you mean. So, uh, I’m not really sure what you are saying, but I just always feel that everybody is important-even the darkies on Dawson St. I always tried to tell that to yer mama-make sure she always said hello to people. It’s not that hard to do, you know. Just say “hey”-you’d be surprised how nice people can be. But yeah, I do always try to be helpful to people-it’s the Southern way.

Stephanie: As you know it was a hard year after your leaving. I have specific memories of when you finally left-in fact; I have memories of you in those final days that aren’t even real as I was not actually there. Can you tell me about what was going on for you at the time, when you cried to be taken?

Elouise: Well, I don’t reckon I know what, exactly. I was just done-I was ready. The good lord said it was going to be time to go and I reckon that I just got a little impatient with him (chuckles)

Stephanie: You laugh about it now, but for those around you, this was a particularly startling thing. Both mom and Mandy talked about it to me later; mom saying, ‘I never heard mama yell like that in my life’. Mandy said, ‘she cursed everybody out, yelling and screaming. Jessica got really frightened-I had to take her out, she couldn’t stand it anymore. She had never seen her grandma act like that before’.

What do you think about when I read that out loud to you?

Elouise: Well, I don’t really know. I guess I wasn’t really thinking about it all at the time-I was just speaking my truth at the time. Maybe I wasn’t really on the earth at that point anyway-I like to think that I was half-way there. Waiting to see your granddaddy, mama and yer uncle Plugue-everybody.

Listen, I want to thank you for all you and Jeff did for me and your mama. Jeff is a good man and he loves you. You tell him that he will always be a part of my family.

Stephanie: Thank you grandma-I sure will. Grandma, there have been all these other things I wanted to talk to you about, and now of course, they just don’t seem to hold the same power of conviction that they once did. Right now, I’m just suddenly overwhelmed with how much I miss you.


Stephanie: So, I opened this interview up about the time when you were “hollerin’ to leave”. I guess I chose this moment because in my mind, it seemed very poignant to both my understanding of who I have always thought you were in looking back on my life; and also who I thought you were when I look back on YOUR life. I think about the beatings and neglect you went through with Granddaddy and maybe before that; I think about the family; and when you wanted to go to school. I think about how you never really came first-then suddenly-and I’m not trying to be hippy about it-but it’s like you found your voice. I’m not sure what you wish to share on the matter, but the story seemed poignant to everyone, including your daughters because “it was the first time that you ever completely spoke your mind”. I’m actually thinking about when Mandy said, ‘She wasn’t holding back nothin’!’.

Elouise: Well that may be true-but the bigger thing is why does that seem to be so important to you right now, when we maybe able to talk about other things instead?

Stephanie: I guess because I have always held in my mind that you were so oppressed and that this was the moment when you had serious conviction about who you are.

Elouise: Well, I hate to say it and don’t take this wrong, but I do find that a little insulting. I think I’ve always known who I am. I reckon that I have been through a lot-the whole family has. Life was hard with your granddaddy and your momma had to see a lot that wasn’t right. But your granddaddy loved me.

Elouise: So what’s it like now, grandma? Do you see everyone? Is it like they taught me in vacation Bible School?

Stephanie: Well, I don’t know. There’s a lot that I can’t really talk about-not that I’m sworn to secrecy, but some things don’t make sense down there like they do here. That’s the best way to describe it, I reckon. Things don’t work here like they do there. It’s just all different from that-and different from VBS

Stephanie: I know, but yet I still want to ask if you see granddaddy and everybody, but since I doubt our psychic connection right now, I don’t want to ask. So don’t answer because I’m not asking aloud-although I’m surely asking inside…I’m staring at the computer curser blinking almost in time with the second hand on my clock by the window, kind of waiting for a sign that this interview isn’t just in my head…

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March 2020


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