Monday, August 17, 2009
I sat in front of my computer trying to decide what I would write about today. Closing my eyes, memories came forth of family reunions on my mother's side. A smile crossed my face and I knew this would be the subject for today. While not exactly the same every time, here is generally how it would work. My dad would announce he had a two week vacation. We understood it would not be the full two weeks, because invariably into the second week he'd get a call to come back to work, and we would have to pack up and leave. But for little over a week, we would be together as family.
On more than one occasion, Mom would call her brother and ask if we could stay at his family cabin at the lakes. Let me explain. He along with his brothers had purchased a sizable portion of land outside of Newton, Texas near Jasper. The family lived mostly in Newton and Leesville, Louisiana about 50 miles away. The word would spread. Often my aunt Mary in Pine Bluff would then come down to take another room in the cabin with us. The weekend would be a family reunion.
Now this is no small family. Mom had several brothers. Claude was the one she contacted. But there was also W.L., Mickey, and Bill. She also had several sisters, including Nolia (pronounce Noh-Lee), Vi, Ethel, Mary, and Jean. Plus their spouses and kids everywhere.
Early in the week it would just be us. Dad would wake us up each morning around 4. We would lay out trout lines, then fish, then run trout lines, then fish some more until the sun was up good. Then we took all our fish back to the club house and clean them outside, and freeze them. On this property there were 6 lakes. One was specifically for skiing, all were good for fishing, and the clubhouse lake had a pier and swimming area as well. Another lake had a series of adjoining cabins not unlike a motel unit where all rooms connect. It also had a pier, but mostly for fishing. The lakes were well stocked. He also raised deer, buffalo, and elk on the land and the property was surrounded by a deer fence. It all was finished off with some pastures for Santa Gertrudis cattle and occasionally some Longhorns.
After cleaning the fish, we would have a huge breakfast, followed by a short nap. Then outside to the lake to swim to our hearts' content. No lifeguards here. This was another time. There was also the stories. Always the stories. We were cautioned not to cast towards the many water moccasins on the lake. "If they get mad at you, they will come right into the boat with you." Whenever we boated past one, I would shutter.
My aunt Nolia lived in a large two story ante-bellum style house near the lakes. We would go visit her and she would invariably serve a giant meal, all home grown. She herself could only eat things like oatmeal since she had no teeth. I can remember the oatmeal on her chin, which she would periodically wipe off. She and her husband Loyce would keep up the property and farm and tend to the animals. They had a wide porch that completely surrounded the house, where we kids would run and play to our heart's content.
One day my cousin Johnny, my little brother, and I walked out into the field where the cattle were. We were oblivious for a time when I looked up and saw the big old bull snorting and pawing. We turned and ran for the fence. We barely made it, tossing my brother literally over the wooden rails before that giant bull running right towards us pulled up and stopped. My uncle ran out and chewed us out good. Then he relaxed a bit. "Lemme tell you something. If you ever have a bull running you down and you can't get out, find a big tree. "
"Climb it?" I asked.
"Nope. see a bull can't turn real fast. To gore you he has to get to you. You can get on the other side of that tree before he does." Funny, all these years later I remember that story. We had our own cattle back in Tyler, but never a mean bull so I never got to use it. Though it does remind me of a funny story with our bull I'll tell another time.
So finally reunion day would be there. What we ate varied. Most often though it was either a fish fry or a crayfish boil. Family was everywhere. It was a hoot listening to my Momma and her family. First though you need some background. They grew up on a small farm in Arkansas. My Momma was the black sheep, getting herself preached into hell when she was 17. She went off on her own and cut her hair short and smoked cigarettes and got a job, back before any decent woman would do any of those things. The family religion was Assemblies of God. Aunt Ethel and her husband A.G. and kids all became evangelists, and Uncle W.L. was a preacher and evangelist as well. All were well versed in Bible. They would spin stories of their childhood, telling the rest of us what saints they were. Then Momma would speak up. "You can lie when you get home, but I know better. Only difference between me and you other hellions was I didn't hide it and pretend to be what I was not."
They would laugh, conceding she probably had a point."You got a point Rachel. You took licks for me more than once." Uncle W.L. would then roar, "but most of the time you had them coming too." Mom would laugh then. They all had loud booming voices and the laughter could be infectious.
The were all in the lumber business, so some talk would go to that. Then it would be time to eat, and someone would be asked to say a prayer and we got to listen to 15 to 20 minutes of prayer interspersed with halleluyahs and praise Jesus's and if we were lucky maybe even some speaking in tongues. Then someone would clear their throat (usually Momma) and there would be the invariable joke about how lunch was going to be supper if this prayer didn't end. Food would be served, then more stories. On occasion another game would be played.
In this game, entire conversations would be carried out, using nothing but quoting Bible passages. I didn't think you could even include a risque joke or bawdy humor this way, but darned if they didn't pull it off. I never took them too seriously because they were family and I knew their poo stank. There would also be lots of singing, something held over from their childhood when Grandma would pull out her guitar and they would sing on the porch back in Arkansas on Sundays to entertain themselves. Of course as soon as possible we kids were making our way to the lake to swim. Some of the older ones would do some skiing as well.
At night, Daddy and I would run some more lines. We always caught lots of fish, and there would be enough to pack up on ice to bring home for several more meals when invariably he got that call from his boss.
Funny thing is I don't fish anymore. I've gotten all soft in my older age and hate to kill them. But it was never about catching fish anyway. It was a time to get away from the city. There is no meditation that can compare sitting in a boat staring out onto the water, listening to the frogs and later the crickets, with no city noises, only the ducks flying overhead or the chirping of birds or occasionally the gobbles of wild turkeys on shore. It was a time when we could watch the passages of the sun, be a family together. We did not get to see our Daddy much growing up, and when he was home he was often tired. During these reunions though we saw another person, one we wanted to see more of. Momma was happier too, home with family, a family she once had to leave those many years before.
Today, who knows what became of the clubhouse and the lakes? I heard rumors some of the kids were fighting over them after our uncles began to die. Whatever happened, in my memory, it is exactly like it was back then, where the children can gather over the summer and family can be renewed. I can't be there of course, because I am today's outcast. But they will never take from me the memories of that time.