The crabapple tree in the strip of brown turf beside the prescription drive-through window in the Rite Aid parking lot in Laurinburg, North Carolina, has exploded in an exuberance of pink blossoms. Its rapture stops me cold before I get in my car with two prescriptions, after overhearing the clerk inside announce the total of two hundred dollars for eight prescriptions to another customer. Beyond the crabapple tree are the bowling alley, Family Dollar, a quick-loan shop, and Enterprise Rental Cars; across the street are KFC and Speedway Gas. The tree is resplendent in vigorous resistance to the rest of what surrounds it. I stand and stare in gratitude.
Laurinburg is in Scotland County, the poorest county in this rural southeastern part of the state. The town exists in the path of Sherman’s March, noted on black and white historical markers outside of town and which, I have noted in my ten years of living here after relocating from California, nobody in Laurinburg ever talks about. The ratio of pharmacies, dollar stores, and fast-food franchises relative to the town’s population is high; there is only one library, and no bookstores. At our lone framing and art store, I ask the owner, who has lived in Laurinburg since 1968, how he would describe this place to someone who isn’t from here. “Just a typical Southern small town,” he reflects. “It used to be thriving. We thought we were invincible.” Then free trade happened, light industry went away, then businesses, jobs, property value, bodies. The ghost of Sherman keeps marching.
The crabapple and her relatives of redbud, cherry, pear, plum – and the glorious dogwoods who soon will unfold small clenched fists to reveal their smooth, white-gloved palms outstretched to join hands with spring – resist all depletion in this place. Poverty, poor health and education: all these are here, as they’ve been for over a century. They won’t be leaving any time soon. Yet forever in between these facts, like seeds cracking through asphalt, remains the truth of glorious crabapple opening to the warmth of early March, and of a person bearing witness.