Every now and then an irresistible force calls upon a man to visit family. He could go to the beach. He could go to the mountains. He could drive miles to go to a Bass Pro Shop. But at the urging of the ancestral juices that flow through his bones, he loads up the wife and maybe a small overnight bag. The voice of cousins, great nephews, sisters, and even in-laws speak to him in the night. And he must go.
When I was a kid, from time to time we would load up the car and make a trip down to Thomaston, GA to visit Uncle Doyle and Aunt Lillian. The Barnett side of our family. Aunt Lillian was a Chappell, my Dad’s older sister. Uncle Doyle was a mechanic at the Buick dealership in town. Their boys, Warren and Wyman, James and Franklin were much older cousins. Practically grown men. So, an eight-year-old boy had nothing to do on a hot July day in Thomaston, GA.
Trips like this never made much sense to me. The grownups just sat around and talked. That was it. I was bored to death. I could hear the clock on the mantel ticking. An oscillating fan humming in the living room. If I was lucky, there might be some homemade ice cream after lunch. But for the most part, visiting family was something I dreaded.
All that has changed. In fact, most of our road trips these days are about visiting family. A few years ago, Beth and I were up in the north Georgia mountains for a little get away. While we were there, it occurred to me that I had cousins over near Blairsville. Through the miracle of cell phones, we made contact and a plan to visit while we were close. There were no kids involved, but there were plenty of old folks sitting around and talking for an entire afternoon. We wrapped up the visit with a caramel-chocolate brownie with ice cream on top. It was great.
When my sister called a couple weeks ago and suggested that we all get together for a visit, I was on board. Swimming pool. Burgers and hotdogs on the grill. Kids and grandkids. Our little group all in one place.
I have decided that old men and swimming pools don’t really go together. I am a pasty white guy with dark arms and neck. I have not worked on a tan in years. My feet are white enough to be picked up on camera from a spy satellite in space. Chlorine is bad for my eyes. And a hoard of small children on my back make me think about what it would be like to drown in three feet of water.
My sister was glad to see us. Partly because she enjoys hosting family. Partly because she and her husband had our oldest granddaughter for several days and she was feeling her age. A rambunctious six-year-old can wear out a great aunt over time.
“Man, I’m glad to see y’all. Your turn in the pool.” I could tell she needed relief.
So, there we were. Visiting. Pool stuff. Screams and splashing. Grownups sitting in the shade talking about whatever. Jethro Tull and Grand Funk Railroad on the box. Catching up on life.
I’m just taking it all in. Beth cuddling with small children. My oldest daughter and her husband trying to enjoy the day but spending most of their time herding kids. My youngest and her husband pushing around the pool with Zelda. A small bump in the oven that is due come December. Our son being the fun uncle, Funcle Marshall, a title that he enjoys. My brother-n-law prepping the feast. And my sister, who reminds me of Mama by the way she walks.
She comes up to me while I’m standing in the shade and pats me on the belly. “Now, remind me. Is it you or Emily that’s expecting?” Boy, she’s a regular riot.
“Hey. I’ve earned every bit of this. Don’t poke an old man.”
I love it when payback comes unexpectedly. I was standing under the pool-side shelter holding little Dorothy. She’s three. Wispy thin golden locks. She has a chunk of watermelon in one hand. She is taking full-face bites up to her eyeballs. Juice rolling down her cheeks, dripping on my arm.
She points to my sister with her melon-hand and says, “Grandpa, is that your Mommy?”
Marian doesn’t hear this but sees her pointing. She comes over.
“What did you say, Sweetie. Are you talking about me?”
Dorothy shoves the melon at her with a pointy finger. “Are you his Mommy?” Sweet revenge like this doesn’t come along often.
I couldn’t help myself. “Yes she is.” I’m doing my best sarcastic baby talk voice. “You’re so smart Dorothy. This is my Mommy.”
Who’s funny now big sister?
That was Saturday. Sunday after church, we loaded up with an overnight bag and headed off to Deatsville, AL to visit with our niece and her husband. They just had their first little boy back in March and we had not yet seen him in person. Little Daniel came into this world two months early at just over three pounds. He spent his first 10 weeks in the NICU holding on to season tickets to Auburn football.
Deatsville is a crossroad full of cotton fields in the middle of nowhere about 30 miles north of Montgomery. My confused GPS device took us left off State Route 31 when we should have gone right. We were invited to be their overnight guests.
Katie lost her Mama, my wife’s younger sister, 18 years ago when she was just 11 years old. She has always held a soft spot in our hearts. We went to the wedding two years ago. And, for dang sure, we want to be a part of Daniel’s life.
Our niece’s Mama would be so proud of her. She cooked for us. She made a bed for us. She showed us where the extra towels were kept. She immediately handed Daniel over to us and started taking pictures. He laid in my lap blowing spit bubbles. He fell asleep on Beth’s shoulder. It was exactly the visit we needed.
On Monday, we headed off to Selma to visit more family. The ones living in Live Oak Cemetery. Seems that the city has abandoned the “care” part of perpetual care. We had to hunt tomb stones and grave markers in conditions that made one think of an overgrown hay field. We couldn’t let family rest like that.
So, we came prepared to work. Weed eater. Rake. Broom. Bucket for water. Shovel for edging around markers. Pruners for the dead rose bush. We did the best we could. It was 98° by noon. Our drawers were stuck to our skin by the time we were done. Then lunch with Beth’s older sister. Followed by a quick visit with our Brother-n-law, Katie’s Dad.
We didn’t plan it this way. A lot came together all at one time. We packed in more family visits in one weekend than we had done in years.
But that’s okay. Family is what really matters, right? I wouldn’t have it any other way.