Families--I used to be part of a giant, close-knit family. I have seven aunts and uncles, more than 30 cousins, and I've lost track of second and third cousins. And that is just on my mother's side. We used to be a close-knit family, getting together often, all of us, but not anymore. My grandparents have been dead a long time, and there was a lot of strife in my family after my grampa died a decade ago. However, I remember what it was like, and I thought I'd share.
This first picture is at one of our family get-togethers. We're at a park, under a big shelter, and believe me, we took up all the tables. On the left is me, and to the right are my cousins Carolyn & Davy. We are toasting marshmallows, if you can't tell, over a grill. In the background between us is my cousin Beverly holding my baby brother Cory. Standing and sitting are the aunties and unks. The guys would shoot the breeze, talking about work and cars. They'd pitch horseshoes. The women would talk about their gardens and their kids. These family get-togethers were often held around my birthday, so we'd get the added bonus of cake. Everybody brought food, all homemade. My tribe of cousins and I would play til it got dark. Nowadays, some of my cousins are grandparents, and some are still in middle school. Some have died under mysterious circumstances, and many are alcoholics.
This picture is of me (at left) with my gramma (hair in pincurls), and my cousins Jody and Linda. When I was a little kid, we'd always go on these fantastic vacations. My grandparents had a pick-up shell camper, and one aunt & unk had a pop-up tow-behind camper. We'd drive out west, down south, out east, camp & eat, and see all the beautifulness of what used to be. My grampa would often get preaching gigs, which would also get us some hygiene, some hot food, free parking, and access to a kitchen to prepare next week's food on the road.
One year we went to North Carolina, to visit the remnants of Cherokee tribes (my grampa was half Cherokee). But mostly it was out west, going from national park to national park. One year it was a huge family event, and this is where this picture was from. It was still my grandparents & one aunt & unk, but we had a mob of cousins going as well. Some rode on motorcycles and dirt bikes, others piled into vehicles. We caravanned, slept out, and had a generally good time. In this picture, you can bet we were all wearing homemade clothes (and most likely hand-me-downs), and don't we look styling, especially my cousin's huge sunglasses!
And finally, this is a picture of my brother and me, with our dog Snapper (names so because he liked to nip your hands as you walked). This is right after we moved out to a big old Victorian house that had been abandoned for decades. It was a trip. The house itself was quite beautiful, in all its falling-down glory. I lived there with my grandparents mostly til I was ten, and sometimes after I stayed with my grampa for lengths of time. We had two giant woodstoves that kept three rooms warm, and the rest of the house was closed up in the winter. We slept in cold bedrooms, all together. There was, of course, no air conditioning, and living in a valley full of corn, you can imagine how hot it was in the summer.
Once my grampa saw a panther, and we had to stay inside for a week. It was never spotted again, although coyotes, foxes, and snakes continued to be a good deterrent for me to go exploring on my own very often. We had a chicken coop, and always had plenty of eggs & fried chicken for Sunday dinner. The house was torn down after my step-grandmother insisted on moving to town. My grampa had an auction (he was a pack-rat), and moved out. I like to think if I had not chosen to go to college, this house would still exist somewhere besides my head.
Until I was 17, I lived in the "modern" house next door, about 100 yards away. This modern house had no bathroom, and only a hand pump in the kitchen when we moved in. It took a while to convince animals that they were not welcome there any longer. My parents still live there, although the place will be torn down when my step-dad passes away.
I grew up poor, but I never felt in need. I didn't realize the depth of the poverty until I spent a semester in college and came back to visit. Although I had a brief affair with middle-class life, it felt extremely uncomfortable, and I am now happily deeply poor again. I can feel a lot more riches in community than I do in material possessions. Although I do not have my big family of cousins, I have a big family of good friends. I still feel the same comfort and security in my community. I feel blessed, and I am.