I’m making a road trip today to go visit with family. Even though this is an old-fashioned way of spending a Saturday, I am drawn to my destination like a moth to a light bulb. As I drive down the backroads of Georgia I’m thinking about all those times that Mom and Dad shoveled me and my sister into the back of a 1968 Ford Falcon to go visit somebody.
Most of those trips took place on a Sunday afternoon. We might head out to Social Circle to see Big Mama and Big Daddy. Maybe to Forest Park to see Aunt Francis and Uncle Paul. Every now and then we’d head down to Thomaston to see Aunt Lillian and Uncle Doyle. I didn’t know it then, at least I had no real appreciation for it then, but these family excursions kept us in touch.
At the time, I thought the whole idea was boring.
“Do I have to go?” I pleaded.
Mama was quick to address my whining. “Yes sir, you’re going. Now get in the car. I don’t want to hear another word about it.”
You see, Sunday afternoons were days of freedom and adventure for me. No serious chores. Maybe run the vacuum while Mama was frying up some chicken for Sunday lunch. Maybe help Dad change the oil in the car. But after that, I was free to roam the fields with my BB gun or skip rocks across the lake.
A road trip to go see family just sucked all the fun out of what otherwise would have been a perfectly good day.
For one thing, there was never anyone to play with when we went to see family. My dad was the youngest of five. I was his youngest. So, even though I had thirteen first cousins, because of basic biological influences over which I had no control, all of them were practically grown by the time I came along. The oldest, Wesley, was only 10 years younger than Dad. The closest one to me in age still has me beat by 8 or 10 years.
My sister was content with her books. A family visit for her was simply a chance to read another volume of Little Women or all 352 pages of Gulliver’s Travels. I spent my time kicking around in the back yard looking for lizards and frogs, trying not to be in the way while the adults talked. The hours felt like days.
My view of family has changed now that I’m older. I really hadn’t thought about it until just now, but I imagine all those Sunday afternoon trips fifty-five years ago are, at least, part of the reason I am on the road now.
When I went to Hampton for the book signing back in January, one of the pleasant surprises was that my cousins, Bobby and Evelyn, showed up. Bobby is the oldest of my Uncle Robert and Aunt Helen’s family. They drove up all the way from High Falls. It was a cold day. Snow on the rooftops early that morning. Still, they made the trip.
Evelyn is a Dixon from Luella. Her dad ran the cotton gin, and her mama ran a small country store. She and Bobby graduated high school and got married in 1957. I was a diaper pooping little tike when all this was going on.
Sometime in the late 60s, don’t know the exact year, they built a house across the road from us. Maybe a hundred yards from the homeplace where he had grown up. His oldest, Kathy, was only two years younger than me. She and her brother Ken and I were more like first cousins even though we were 2nd cousins or first-twice-removed, or however that is supposed to go. But it was during the years that followed that Bobby and Evelyn, and their family became a fixed part of my world.
When they showed up in Hampton on that cold day in January, I immediately became aware of how long it had been since we’d seen each other or spent any time together. I promised then that I’d come for a visit later in the spring. His advice was to “wait until it’s warm enough we can take a boat ride.”
Today I am making good on that promise.
I spent a lot of time on High Falls lake as a kid. Dad belonged to the sportsman club that gave us access to some pretty good camping and fishing. As I’m crossing the bridge below the falls, there are familiar memories that come back to me mixed with the notion of how much things have changed.
I can hardly go anywhere these days without recognizing the change.
I checked my watch as I turned onto Pioneer Trail. The text I had received was short and succent. “Table time about 12:30. Visit time, any time after 11:30 until whenever. Dog welcome.”
We were spot on. Max sat up to peer out the window as I made the turn into the driveway. I just barely got stopped in the drive when they came out the front door.
“Sons of brothers,” he said. “It’s about time we got together.”
Then he hugged me. It’s a good sign when family is not afraid to hug. Personally, I think hugging is the best form of greeting. Handshakes are good. Thank goodness the handshake is back. But hugs tell the real story. Hugs say something deeper than a handshake. Handshakes say respect. Hugs say love. Handshakes say howdy stranger. Hugs say we belong to one another.
I won’t bore you with all the details of porch sitting, hamburgers off the grill, and the pontoon boat tour of High Falls Lake with Captain Bob at the helm. I won’t get too specific about the pie in the afternoon, but I will say it was absolutely delicious and likely, probably gone by now. Evelyn offered to let me take it home, but I was polite and left the crumbs for the man of the house.
The conversations moved in and out of the present and past like a needle and thread stitching together our common history. The three of us sharing stories and comparing notes on old memories about how things used to be. I gathered up family details like I was picking blackberries and putting them in my mental basket.
Discoveries to charm another day.
When five o’clock rolled around, I stood to leave. “Better not wear out my welcome.”
“We ain’t never run anybody off around here. You’re welcome to stay for supper,” they said.
Max would stay. First boat ride. Comfy home. New little friend. He seems to prefer their dog’s water dish to his own. But it was time to head home.
Out at the end of the driveway, right by the gate, Bobby stepped up to my truck window. “I’m glad you made the effort. Come back anytime.”
On the drive home, I thought about what a good day it was. No trouble at all, really. A promise. A little planning. A day set aside on the calendar. Go. That’s all it took.
Whatever the effort, family is worth it.