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©Family Reunion-A Work of Fiction

By: James Melvin the Poet Gilbreath

 

Let me take you on a little improvisational peregrination; an impromptu journey, if you will; an extemporaneous pilgrimage (which is all just a bit contradictory, since Iíve got it all written down), but none the less, let me take you back to the late fifties in central Texas, to one of my familyís reunions.

††††††††††† Picture an old wooden farmhouse that nobodyís even mentioned the word paint around it much less actually put any paint on its gray wood. My great grandparents lived there and it, and the furniture inside, was about all they owned. They had an old 1932 Ford, but it had been sitting on blocks beside the leaning garage since before I was born in 1949. Weeds had grown up all around it and weed-eaters hadnít been invented in the fifties, even though it wouldnít have mattered, because my great grandfather would never have bought one of those new fangled contraptions. We kids were told to stay away from the car, because there may be snakes. If you want a kid to stay away from someplace, donít tell them their may be snakes, because thatís the very place all the kids will gravitate to. We never did find a snake, but it wasnít from a lack of trying.

I called their house a farmhouse, but it wasnít on a farm. At least, not since they bought it in 1901. The farm had been divided up after the civil war and the little town of dysentery, Texas grew up there in the middle of nowhere, where it still is today.

In the late fifties Gran and Pap were in their eighties, but I thought they were over a hundred. Of course I wasnít even ten years old. I thought my parents were elderly. In reality, their parents, my grandparents, were only in their fifties. But, I guess, age is relevant, as they say. My great, great grandmother lived across the street from Gran and Pap and she really was over a hundred. I thought she was two hundred.

Pap moved so slow, he had moss growing on his north side. And youíre probably thinking Iím just saying that to be funny, but Iím not. Although, he did seem to move just a little bit faster on the day of the reunion.

Early on a Saturday morning cars would begin arriving. They ranged in age from old to really old. The newer old cars had some color on them, but mostly the cars were black or gray. They would park along the curb-less streets until someone decided to park in Gran and Papís yard, since it was huge, then everyone else would follow suit. By the time everyone had arrived the yard would be full of cars and people all standing around talking to each other (the people, not the cars.).

There would be about a half-dozen of my uncles, both great and lesser, standing around the bed of somebodyís pickup truck talking and passing a paper sack around. If one of us kids got too close, they would quit talking and set the sack down inside the pickup bed until we left, because they werenít talking about or doing anything interesting. Once we were gone theyíd be going at it again.

We kids would group up in like-ages and usually boys and girls. Each group would go off exploring and getting reacquainted, since most of us only saw each other at these reunions, which were not every year. There was a lot to explore. The property was only two or three acres, but there was a lot packed into it, like the aforementioned car on blocks. It was situated next to a large garage with an attached tool shed that was packed with Papís junk he had found. There was a locked on the tool shed door, but we boys would find a loose board and get inside where we would always locate one of Papísnudists magazines.

Gran was always complaining about Papís junky old shed to all the other women in the kitchen who were busy arranging the food everyone had brought with them.

There was always the huge bowl of banana pudding that was ubiquitous to every family gathering. I think it was always the same person who brought it, yet I never did know who it was. It was suspected to be Aunt Willie, because after she died the banana pudding kept showing up, but it wasnít nearly as good.

††††††††††† I remember Aunt May would direct my mother to put her big bowl of potato salad over there with the seventeen other even bigger bowls of potato salad, next to all the bowls of beans. All, that is, except the one that turned over and spilled on the floorboard of Aunt Dorisí 1957 Chevy with the aqua blue fins. By-the-way, that was probably the newest car there and it was over two years old.

††††††††††† I never saw so much home-fried chicken at one time in my life. You would have had a hard time finding a full-grown chicken in Texas after one of our family reunions. I think thatís why we waited so long between gatherings to allow the baby chicks to grow and multiply before we decimated the flock once again.

††††††††††† We boys were constantly searching for an adventure after got through looking at Papís nudist magazines. One of these adventures was to spend time talking to Uncle Ben, who had half of his nose removed because of cancer, before any of us boys were ever born. From our vantage point we could see right up into Uncle Benís head. I swear I could see his brain thinking. It was creepy and fascinating all at the same time.

††††††††††† I think everybody had an Uncle Red, whether they called him that or not. My Uncle Red was a short hyperactive man with bright red hair. He was always chasing the boys and wrestling or playing football with us. But his most annoying thing to do was get us down and sit on our chests with his knees on our arms, pinning us down. Then he would tickle us or pound on our sternums while we would writhe in pure agonizing torture. The boys who were just watching thought it was funny, at least, until he got them down.

††††††††††† Uncle Red was probably ADD, but nobody knew about that stuff when he was in school. He played sports all through his school years. I think his teachers made him play just to try to wear him out before he came to their classes. He should have learned to smoke cigarettes drink hard liquor like his dad. That was the calmest man I ever knew.

††††††††††† I had a distant 3rd cousin once removed or something like that. I think she was the daughter of my great, great aunt who married a man who was over seven feet tall. The daughter, my 3rd cousin once removed or something like that, was six foot-three and she had married a guy who was almost as tall as her dad. The first time I saw their son, he was about my height, which was five foot four and I thought he was about my age at the time, which was almost ten. When I tried to talk to him it seemed to me there was something wrong with him. He couldnít talk very well and kept on wanting to stay with his mother, instead of rough housing with the other boys. It turned out he was barley 5 years old and wouldnít be starting school for another year and a half. He was taller than me by the time he started first grade and I was starting sixth grade. I think he was like seven foot three when he finally stopped growing.

††††††††††† W.C. was my 2nd or 3rd cousin. I was never really sure. He graduated high school in 1958 when I was nine. His name was Larry Sheldon Dubbins, but for some reason everyone called him W.C. I guess his parents thought they were good initials to do business with. And I have to admit by the late sixties the initials L.S.D. would have probably been bad for business.

††††††††††† You know how you hear about people being in bed with big oil or big government? Well, W.C. was in bed with big Coke. Every time you ever saw him he was drinking a Coke. Nobody ever saw him drinking water, milk or alcohol; just Coke. Then one day when he was thirty-one all his teeth fell out.

††††††††††† By the time lunch was ready, we boys had explored every inch of Gran and Papís property including the two-seater outhouse. Thatís right. They did not have indoor plumbing. That was new fangledy stuff. I mean, it was a big deal when Pap had a hand pump installed and mounted on the side of Granís sink, which drained through a pipe that was routed under the house and out onto the lawn where it drained down a slight incline.

††††††††††† They did have electricity, though. There was one outlet in each room and each room had a light bulb dangling from a long cord protruding from the eleven foot high ceiling. Nothing else changed over the years. They never did get indoor plumbing.

††††††††††† Aunt Flo had a voice like a moose, so it was usually her job to step out on the back porch and holler, ďDinner!Ē The word filtered outward to the far reaches of the property where the children were. It looked like one of the great buffalo migrations of the old west as people connected by blood or marriage began to slowly move toward the kitchen door or the front door, whichever was closest when Aunt Floís voice intruded upon the eardrum.

††††††††††† Everybody would crowd into the house where all the men and boys lined up to wash their hands in the sink under the hand pump. For some reason, the women and girls didnít have to wash their hands. It was probably the same reasoning that
Gran used when she would call us boys, heatherns. She probably believed that all males were heatherns.

††††††††††† Several of the relatives brought folding chairs and card tables, which were strategically placed all over the house. Everyone ate and talked at the same time, while an entourage of great aunts moved around the rooms with hot rolls and pitchers of tea.

††††††††††† I always seemed to wind up sitting at the table with Uncle Lester and Aunt Velma. It may have been my punishment for some misdeed in my young past. Aunt Velma was always pinching and hugging and not inappropriately I might add. It was just annoying. Uncle Lester always had tobacco and liquor on his breath and he had a proclivity to sit beside me and get in my face to talk. Even though I was a kid and could handle almost any smell from a bean fart to a dead animal, Uncle Lesterís breath made me want to puke.

††††††††††† He and Aunt Velmaís last name was Little and they owned a catering business in Forney, Texas. Business wasnít real good under the name Little Catering, but when they changed the name to Forney Caterers, business boomed.

††††††††††† Uncle Lester was a heavy drinker, but he finally stoppedÖwhen he died. He used to smoke Raleigh Cigarettes and collected the coupons that came in every pack. It took him years to get enough coupons to get some nice lawn furniture, then he died of lung cancer, but Aunt Velma and her new husband enjoyed that furniture for many years until they died with skin cancer from sitting out in the sun all those years.

††††††††††† If you ever went to just one of my family reunions you would probably think I was normal. Imagine a hundred people in one house talking at the same time and they all sound like me and they are all complaining.

††††††††††† The word lugubrious doesnít get used much anymore, but it was a well-worn word back in the fifties and sixties and mostly it was used to describe my family. The word basically means ridiculously excessive grief. People inside and outside my family learned over the years not to ask anyone in my family how they were doing. All you would hear in answer is how bad everything was from their health to the world around them. Nobody in my family even looked like they were happy. Of course, thatís because they werenít. They never seemed to lose the demeanor they had acquired during the depression.

††††††††††† The only adult member of my family who looked happy and didnít complain was my great, great Uncle Dwayne. He still lived with Gran and Pap, because he couldnít live on his own. The adults always said he wasnít quite right in the head. Dwayne was different. He was happy and didnít complain. Today he would be called a special needs adult. He seemed okay to us kids. He usually wore an old leather aviatorís cap pulled down over his ears and would sit in the front yard and act like he was flying an airplane. Even though he was sixty-something when I was ten, we didnít think of Uncle Dwayne as an adult. He was kind of like Uncle Red only calmer.

††††††††††† Gran and Pap didnít mind Uncle Dwayne being outside. All the neighbors knew about him and accepted him, but several of my snooty aunts wanted him to stay inside when they were at the house for family reunions. They said it made the rest of us look stupid when he would stand in the front yard and floss his teeth with a washrag.

†††††††††† I always thought those snooty aunts ought to go look at their own husbands if they wanted to know why people thought they were stupid. Aunt Lornaís husband, Burl, looked like he was twelve months pregnant after sitting on the couch drinking beer for over fifty years, even though Aunt Lorna said he didnít drink. But Uncle Wilton said if Burl didnít drink that was only because he just poured it straight down his throat without swallowing.

††††††††††† Uncle Jake, whose son was in ďkindygarden,Ē had a shiny skull that always looked like it was trying to escape from his head. He looked like an alien creature from one of those nineteen fifties sci-fi movies. And his wife, Aunt Judith, was one of those who thought Uncle Dwayne made us all look stupid.

††††††††††† But we werenít all a bunch of white-trash hicks. There was Jimmy Dee. He was great Uncle Natís boy. He was nineteen or twenty in 1959 and he had one of those pompadour hairdos and he was always running a comb through it. He looked like Elvis in his heyday. Jimmy Dee was cool. I always wanted to be like Jimmy Dee until he got shot to death in a bar by a jealous girl friend. That was about the same time James Dean got killed in a car wreck. So I figured being cool wasnít all it was cracked up to be.

††††††††††† Anyway, after lunch the men and children headed back outside and the women began to clean up. The afternoon would limp along as first one car then another would begin to pull out. The gang of kids would dwindle down until only two or three were left.

††††††††††† For some reason my parents were among the last to leave. I guess because we didnít have as far to drive as everyone else. As we were loading up into our car to go, I would take one more look around. It always had a kind of lugubrious feel to it, like a ghost town or the day after the State Fair closed down and Big Tex didnít have on any clothes.

††††††††††† All the grass and weeds in Gran and Papís yard was all mashed down from tires and shoes. There were hundreds of cigarette butts scattered all over the yard and they would stay there until they rotted, because nobody really cared enough to pick them up. After all, it was 1959 and Ike was in the White House. What could possibly go wrong?

 

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