I’m going to deviate from the traditional Happy List for a moment here to reminisce. I have to; I’m feeling nostalgic.
It’s dreary today and North Florida/Southern Alabama has this look about it that feels washed out. Picture long low cotton fields all culled over against a gray sky backdrop, framed in by an even grayer asphalt road. I recall so many seemingly endless car trips to Dothan, Alabama when I was a kid that looked just like this. We always drove through Tallahassee on our way and each time, it was raining. Just like right now.
But even amidst the rain, I remember feeling very content and happy being at my grandparents’ house. We were usually the first of the families to arrive. My aunt and uncle and their kids from South Florida got there later, as well as my Knetucky Uncle and my Georgia Aunt and her husband and children. We used to have a joke about how the cousins who came from our same neck of the woods were usually late but I mean, who is late to a holiday gathering, really? I mean, there is no deadline; just everyone come and we’ll be together. If all of my father’s siblings came then the house was full to the brim. I can only recall one year when every single cousin and aunt/uncle was there. We had to pile three wide on the pull out couches and all the spare bedrooms were full. One year, my Uncle Hal and his wife stayed in my Papa’s camper, which I swear to you never left the concrete slab in the backyard EVER.
The things that made me happiest were: all the chatting amongst my family members, gathered around the long dark brown kitchen table, some nuts and candies in bowls on the table to snack on while Papa told old stories of co-workers and neighbours when they lived in Miami. Also, the smells. My Mema stirring the creamed corn in a skillet, shredding chicken at the counter and putting the unusables into an old oyster bucket for the dogs out back. Not their dogs but the neighbour’s hunting dogs that my grandparents fed scraps to. Out on their back porch, my Papa smoked a brisket and boiled peanuts. In the den, uncles and children watched football; the sounds of the age-old announcers were the soundtrack to Thanksgiving. People drifted off to sleep in the recliners while women put out place settings in the dining room.
We had a kid’s table, of course, but we usually didn’t talk much; I think we were all listening to the adults instead. The food was delectable as always: turkey, brisket, field peas, chicken and dumplings, giblet gravy, candied yams, creamed corn, and rolls. All of it mouthwatering and we stuffed ourselves until we couldn’t stand it anymore. And when we were done, we simply threw a tablecloth over it all so we could come back in a few hours and scavenge. Feeling filled, we pulled on coats and headed outside. They lived right next to a church with a playground and big open field so we played on the swings or the slides or picked up pecans to gather in our coat pockets. As children, untainted by the pressures of the adult world, this vacation from school and the family gathering made us happier than our small vocabularies could express.
I miss those days. My grandparents are dead now and we’ve sold their house. I will probably never go to Dothan again, unless we end up having a family reunion there and I actually manage to attend. But when Ash and I talk about having more kids and he gives me the “big family gatherings” speech, I think about much those trips meant to me and just how insanely happy I feel when I think back on them. And maybe having more kids is the right choice because future holidays will be so full of people and love and fun. I don’t really know if we’ll have any more but the idea is there, in the back of my mind… always.