Tomorrow, Lord willing (as my grandad would say) and if the creek don’t rise (as my grandmother would add) I will fly all day to go spend a week hugging necks in the Carolinas.
In the 12 years my husband and I lived in Las Vegas, I flew once or twice a month to speak at events or visit our children.
We had no grandchildren when we moved there. Then they started coming out of the woodwork. Nine grandbabies in ten years. So we moved back to California to be closer to our growing family. Then the pandemic hit and life changed in ways we never imagined.
It’s been more than two years since I boarded a plane, and almost four years since I’ve seen the mountains where I was born, or hugged the necks of folks in a big-hearted family that, despite how I turned out, tried to raise me right.
Four years is too long to be away from people you love. I’m especially looking forward to seeing my sister and brother. But I also hope to see cousins and nieces and nephews and friends who feel like family.
My sister Bobbie is now in a nursing home. My brother Joe, who is blind, lives alone. I’ve had several offers to stay with family or friends. But I plan to stay on a lake where I swam as a teenager; grieved after the death of my first husband; and years later, spent months writing like a house on fire to finish a novel.
That lake and those mountains will always be family to me. Just to see them tells me I am home.
My sister has a big birthday this week. I’d tell you how big, but if she knew, she’d kill me and refuse to go to my funeral.
Cousin Sara and her husband Dennis (I call him Bear Man but that’s another story) will host a a party for Bobbie, who will be thrilled to see us all, as long as the food is good. (Bobbie’s a mite picky.) I’m sure the food will be good, and plentiful.
Once, as Sara and I planned food for a crowd, I said, “Do you think we’ll have enough?”
“Don’t worry, honey,” Sara said. “If we run short, we’ll just put out a few funeral home signs and the neighbors will start bringing us covered dishes.”
Joe said he’d be happy to come the party, if he can listen to the Clemson football game on TV while we eat. Joe will love the food. He’s not picky about anything but Clemson football.
This gathering won’t be nearly as big as some we’ve shared in years past. Our grandparents had ten children (nine talkative girls and one quiet boy) and more grandchildren than they could count. On Sundays and holidays most of us showed up at their house (unless we were deathly ill) to eat the world’s best fried chicken, potato salad and banana pudding.
The women would gossip in the kitchen. The men would smoke and joke on the porch. And the girl cousins would watch the boy cousins try to kill each other with sticks.
We were a family, certain we always would be. Then life took its toll. Some of us moved to foreign lands like California of All Places. In time, we lost our grandparents and parents, aunts and uncles, even some cousins. Many of them lie buried side by side on a lovely hill with a view of the BI-LO parking lot.
It brings to mind a beautiful song by Lyle Lovett that recalls members of his family who are gone, but not forgotten, and describes those still living as the last of the “Family Reserve.”
We are, for now, the last of our Family Reserve. Fewer in number. Scattered apart. But our children and grandchildren and all the children yet to come will one day take our place and be our family forever.
This week we will gather once more to remember loved ones who are gone, but not forgotten, and to celebrate the birthday of our matriarch, my sister Bobbie.
A good time will be had by one and all, by our Family Reserve and countless others smiling down on us from above.
I hope Bobbie likes the food.