June 03, 2010
I wait patiently for church to be over with, squirming in the pew, tugging at my clip on tie, staring at the sweaty man standing behind the lectern, wondering when he will finally be finished. I was sure that he had been speaking about my eternal damnation for at least four hours, when in reality it was only about twenty minutes. My dad stopped showing me the time about sixteen minutes ago, after the fourth time I asked.
Surely nobody was evil enough to need this much church going all in one day. I mean come on, Sunday school started at 9:45 and it was now going on 11:45, you would think parents had more sense than to subject a six year old boy to such mess as this. Every time somebody gets up and leaves the service, the sun blazes through the door mocking me, this is horrible...
Then the moon hits the right phase and I spring up, heading to the god awful heat of the car to begin another endless wait. I'm watching my parents talking to other people dressed in uncomfortable clothes, taking the longest route possible to the car. Dad always has to speak to everyone he sees, its like a disease. He seems to enjoy it, he knows everybody. My siblings are all in the car now and I'm digging around trying to gather up my real clothes. I just don't understand for the life of me why you can't be comfortable when you're asking for God to make a place for you in his kingdom... In that light, cut off bluejeans seem a little far down on the list of what God would find important. Dad says its about respect, but mom gives me that look and nod of "I agree with you."
Once we get free of the parking lot at church and can stop waving and smiling, we make the short drive down Macedonia road, hop straight over Roscoe road and begin the uphill climb on Buddy West. Man, I wish we were in the truck so we could sit on the tailgate... A few twists and turns have passed..
There it is, my grandparents house...
We have a little while before they get here, their church must be filled with sinners, they have to stay extra long... I make my way up the side porch and through the kitchen towards the bathroom. I barely notice all of my aunts in the kitchen as they say hey to me... These clothes have got to come off... The bathroom is permeated with the smell of ivory soap and pine-sol and I breathe it in deep as I stuff my good clothes into a bag and toss it on the floor. I run into their living room to look at the old radio I'm not allowed to touch, its permanently tuned to Newnan's station, but I don't know what they are saying, I never listen. I just like the way the radio is shaped, plus its made of wood so it looks neat.
When my brother is dressed he meets me there and we stop by my grandfather's chair to look at his brass spittoon and his "fine" comb as we steal a whiff of his current plug of cannonball chewing tobacco, then we head into the kitchen. The long family table is set with plates and a few food items, but more is coming. There is no use in looking at it until its full of food. We deal with a few cheek pinches as we head out onto the porch, but that's to be expected in a room full of fine christian women.
Once on the porch we decide to hit the forbidden well before more people get there. Its sitting beside the driveway, a huge concrete thing, We pick up a few good rocks as we climb the side of it. On top of the well is an old piece of tin that Pa covers it with. You have to be quick, because if you get spotted by anybody you'll hear "QUIT THROWING ROCKS DOWN THAT WELL... YOU WANT TO CLOG IT UP!?" We listen as the rocks bounce off the side with that eerie echo and finally splash in the water that my older brother told us was at least a thousand feet straight down through that darkness. We make it off the well just as my uncle is turning in the driveway with a carload of cousins.
They pour out the car and start running in all directions, all yelling at the same time. We decide to follow a few of them up to Pa's shop to see what they are doing. We slip in as they are going through stuff. The place is covered in sawdust, that sweet smell is in everything. I look around at tables and tools I don't understand and I see that cool measuring stick. The thing is made out of wood and unfolds... I can spend an hour playing with that thing, its as long as the entire room when you fold it all out...
We then head on out of the shop and to the barn. That is the largest building I've ever seen. I still can't believe my mother used to jump out of that window and land in cotton laying on the ground. Somehow that story always makes me fear her a little bit.. If she can do that.. she is tough. I am stirring in a funnel shaped thing in the dirt looking for the bug that lives at the bottom when I hear a football game in the distance. We spend a while watching all the big kids playing football, we are too little to play until most of them decide to quit and go sit on the front porch to be cool. Now that our necks are superbly sunburned somebody starts yelling from the house and we run back, knowing whats coming.
I run into the kitchen, and stop dead in my tracks. The smell of baked ham hits me like a wet towel and causes my mouth to water. My eyes bulge out while I'm trying to see everything at once. My attention is drawn from one bowl to another and the tension is building when Pa makes his announcement of a prayer... Great, more praying... He can command a rooms attention just by clearing his throat, and I've made it this far today without a whipping so I stand stock still as speaks.
Then the line forms and I begin my planning. Set out on the table is a spread the likes of which will surely never be seen again, so I must choose carefully. Fried okra, corn of all designs, funny looking gravy that will knock you down its so good, a pile of sliced tomatoes next to a pile of sliced vidalia onions, black eyed peas, cornbread, collard greens, fried green tomatoes, lima beans, mashed potatoes, squash casserole, fried sweet potatoes, a mountain of baked ham that is calling to me like a harpy in a storm.... Damn.. I reach over and get one of aunt 'cille's biscuits to eat while I make up my mind. This biscuit is just not right, anything this good has got to be a sin. I have one plain, one smothered in butter, and one with a pound of ham on it while I load my plate with vegetables of all kinds. I go sit on the floor in the front room until one of the adults gets done, then I head to the table to take their spot as I continue to feed...
On the second go around, I notice a whole new pile of food I haven't seen yet. I stare in awe at banana pudding and peach cobbler, pecan pie is sitting down the table and starts to call out to me... I pass by several tall pitchers and gallon jugs of sweet tea towards the other food. I notice several other pies that I can't identify, maybe I'll try one of those later. I have to wait on my uncle to get finished in the peach cobbler. I watch all the tattoos on his arms moving around.. I'm kind of scared of him, he was in the Navy or something and can sound mean... My aunt Mary puts out one those little cigars she smokes as she turns around and starts asking me questions which I barely hear. My hearing is never good when I'm around pecan pie.
The kitchen is holding around 98 degrees and the door is open as the sound of the screen door slamming resonates throughout the house. I start to think about what I'm going to do once I'm done eating as I watch the other kids running in and out. There's only one thing left to eat... a big pile of cornbread dressing, you have to eat that after dessert... It "cuts the sweet."
I'm the last one to leave the table as the huge white cloth is laid over it... I run outside on the porch knowing that the food will be there for a while longer as the adults sit around and talk about important things. I spend the next few hours running in and out, alternating between playing and eating. I notice that some people are getting ready to leave so I begin to listen to uncle George and my dad talking to Pa in the front room. Uncle George has to be important, he smokes a pipe. Then I hear my mother interrupt my dad and tell him its about time to go. We line up to say goodbye to Pa and Granny. All the cousins start boasting about their athletic ability as we make our way back to the car. I'm ok with leaving because I know that we will be back here next Sunday, and every one after that, that's just the way things are.
We back slowly out of that huge yard and head toward home. The smell of the freshly cut grass wafts through the car and mixes with the lingering aroma of the food, sawdust, honeysuckle, and red dirt to form this memory that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
** Pa (that's Pa in the picture praying before a meal) and Granny's house still sits on Buddy West Road, with that huge barn out behind it. These days that yard looks small and the barn is no bigger than any other building you see around someones house. The huge green field where I watched my cousins playing football is over grown with high grass and appears no larger than my own front yard. The entire place is surrounded by a subdivision of Mcmansions and looks rather forlorn and forgotten. But.. When I was a kid... it was a huge paradise of family that seemed like it would be there forever. God, I miss being a kid... What I wouldn't give for one more Sunday dinner...