"What I most recall is the sun slamming down, ricocheting off tin roofs of mud and plaster houses that duplicated one another endlessly down a thousand bicycle paths, splashes of puddles during the rains, and a hundred women on their way to market."
When I was a small girl in Nigeria, my father, after his “rest time,” would sometimes push my sister, Becky, and me on the swing set before he headed back to his job as business manager at the hospital. “Here we go to Sycamore Town,” he sang over and over, his agile arms giving one daughter a push and then the other. “Here we go to Sycamore Town.” For a long while I didn’t wonder what the lyric meant, no more than I wondered about “here we go round the mulberry bush” when there was no mulberry bush to go round. But at some point, Becky or I must have asked and then the story was revealed; Sycamore is a small village close to the South Carolina hamlet of Fairfax where my mother was born and my parents, Annie Lee Thomas and Lloyd Houston Neil, fell in love. So while American youth were imagining a trek to the African metropolis of Timbuktu, I was being summoned to the fabulous American outpost of Sycamore.