Saturday, September 30, 2006

Families and Generations

This is a picture of my daughter and me, but mostly this post is rambling about memories.

After posting the family photo a few posts below I took the original to the nursing home and tacked it up on a bulletin board. My mother and I talked about each person-- aunts, uncles or cousins. And the matriarch in front (Neta) holds a special place in both my mother's heart and mine. We remembered (well,I did and mom listened) things about each one. There have been many deaths in the last two or three years. Looking at the picture made us think of that. It seemed strange.

I recalled trips to Texas when all the aunts, uncles and cousins (my mother had 7 siblings) would gather at my grandfather's house to wait for us to arrive. We would be greeted by a phalanyx of family members smiling and drawling a Texas hello, hugging us, exclaiming about how much we'd grown, planting kisses on our cheeks. The aroma of Neta's famous pecan pies wafted through the rooms. Cousins would appear from all corners of the big brick house, shyly checking out the California contingent of the family. My handsome uncle, C.G. (we thought him even more good-looking than Clark Gable), would say a blessing and then we'd sit down to a meal of dishes we seldom ate in California. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans cooked with bacon till very soft, black-eyed peas, fried okra, and either biscuits or cornbread We washed it all down with sweet iced tea.

Then the men disappeared into the den to play "42" (a domino game). The women cleaned up while the younger cousins (my group) played "red light, green light" or "statuemaker" on the lawn, and the older cousins went upstairs to the huge loft bedroom to listen to rock and roll and dance the bop. One of our cousins played "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" so many times that I can never hear the song without thinking of Texas. I got a bad case of "chiggers" once from playing on that lawn. If you don't know what that is, you don't want to. Pure misery in the form of a tiny insect.

We didn't have a lot of money so these family reunions were all too few and far between. My Grandfather (known as Papa) was a genial white-haired southern gentleman whom all adored. We really did not know him as well as we longed to, and we envied our Texas cousins who got to do things together as a family all the time.

They in turn envied us. We were from the "glamorous" state of California. They'd quiz us about whether we'd seen any movie stars or had been to Disneyland lately. My eldest sister once danced with Richie Valens (of "La Bamba" fame) at a San Fernando High School dance, but that was about as exciting as it got.

We loved the small west Texas town in which they all lived. It seemed safe and warm and like something out of a storybook. Visiting at my favorite aunt's house, I'd wake up at dawn listening to the rooster crow and look out the window to see miles of red dirt and cotton fields instead of pastel-hued stucco houses and palm trees. "Whoooo wheeee," my dad would exclaim, gazing at the green cotton plants, "Have you ever seen anything so purty?" I had. I preferred mountains and trees, but I didn't tell him so. I just put my hands on my hips and gazed over the fields with him.

A trip to Texas always required, to my chagrin, a visit to " Robbie's Beauty Salon." There my aunt would cut and perm my hair, pulling and teasing it so tightly afterwards that tears came to my eyes. Big hair, it seemed, was required for even a visiting 10 year-old neice. I loved her too much to tell her I hated what she did to my hair. The beauty shop was like none I'd seen in California. It was a social center. I'd sit in the chair and watch women come and go, listening with a tinge of amusement to their heavy accents as they gossiped about the goings-on in the town. When I watched "Steel Magnolias" years later, I cried because it made me miss my beloved Aunt Robbie Jo who died many years ago of cancer.

At night my cousins would cruise "the strip." They'd pile in a car and circle the square in the center of town, honking and calling out to other teenagers. Around the square, down the highway to the little fast food joint outside of town, back up the highway and around the square and up to the gas station at the other end of town. And back to the square and down to the drive in and back....over and over.

The last time I was in Texas I drove past Papa and Neta's home. Papa died almost 30 years ago, and sweet Neta is living in the "rest home." The house sat vacant. The paint was peeling badly and the yard was overgrown and dry. Weeds pushed up in the cracked cement of the driveway. I got out of the car and walked to the rear of the house, feeling like a trespasser. I was remembering a large enclosed porch where we'd sit in a glider and watch fireflies flit among the pecan trees and listen to the whirring locusts. The screens were ripped, and the door to the porch swung crookedly on one twisted hinge. I was surprised to see that the glider still sat in it's former place, but it was rusted and broken. "I shouldn't have gone back here," I thought with a pang of sadness. Last year I heard that the beautiful old house had been renovated and a young family had moved in. I am glad about that.

This afternoon my daughter called to tell me she had emailed the picture of us. It looks like it should be called, "Pink Ladies." She said, "Mom, I am getting big. Suddenly I look really pregnant." She's painting butterfly stencils in the nursery today. Her husband says he is trying to restrain her from covering every surface. She never does anything in a small way.

My mother is forgetting that a baby is coming to the family. I am trying to mention it every day. She will be coming home next week, we hope, and a woman from our congregation will be staying with her while I am not home. She needs the money and my mother needs the company, so I hope this works out. I do have many concerns, but I am watching my mother grow more and more depressed in the nursing home. She's had yet another small stroke, and even though she recovered quickly, it makes me anxious for what is yet to come. Looking at the family picture I couldn't help but wonder if it will be my mother or my Aunt Pauline (standing next to her) who will go first. Gloomy thoughts, perhaps, but part of life.

And then I started thinking about families. In those long-ago days a trip to Texas was better than Christmas. I had yet to realize it, but my own family was disintegrating. And the idyllic feelings I have about those years? Was it real? Well, what I remember most is the warm love and acceptance we received from my Texas relatives.

How strange that today I live in a town that is smaller than my mother's home town was then. Along with the family, that town is fading away, growing smaller and poorer. It's heyday, when the farmers came to town and the square was packed with pedestrians, is long gone.

What memories will happen for our little granddaughter? No big house, no farm, no rooster, no large family and (so far) no cousins. Her mommy's brother will be a great uncle though. And her grandpa will take her camping. I can make a really good pecan pie. When I am gone and she is reminiscing, what will she say?

Psalms 100: 5

For the LORD is good;
His mercy is everlasting,
And His truth endures to all generations.


Chris said...

Oh, Singing Owl!

What a beautiful, beautiful post! It makes me homesick for the times I knew growing up as well.

And BTW, you both look WONDERFUL in pink!

Iris said...

I miss my Mommy! (Excuse me while I go hug my little girl.)

Jules said...

Gorgeous. The mother, the daughter, and the post.
Thanks for this.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

Aww, thanks, y'all. :-)