I'm on the road this week, in the midst of a deep south tour of family history. I've been to Atlanta to see my cousin J., the only girl cousin on my mothers side that I ever knew well and haven't seen her in a number of years. I forgot how much we had in common, our mothers who were sisters, both died two years apart over 20 years ago. They were too young to die and we were too young to lose our mom's. Our fathers died more recently, after good long lives and while difficult, esp for J. whose father fell and broke his neck, they both died in their homes, with hospice care and their families around them, both ready to let go and their children ready to let go of them. J. and I are both the baby girls of our family, both had troubled teen years in the 70's getting into things that were dangerous and crazy but came out all right on the other side. We talked for hours and stayed up late poring over family trees, bibles and pictures, trying to link together who was who and how they were related to the others.
From there I rode on to Mississippi, to visit my Aunt C. my mothers baby sister, her last living sibling. She lives on her husbands family farm where she moved over 50 years ago. My cousin M. lives beside her in his paternal grandmothers home. M. farms 1200 acres of flat Mississippi delta in soybeans, hay, corn and cattle. He proudly toured me in his truck through each field and pasture, all clean and tidy, put to bed for the winter, flat and smooth and cut by deep ditchs edged with cane and bordered by hedgerows of bare hardwoods and green cedars. I was surprised by the beauty of the land in its winter starkness, flocks of birds flying up from the stubble in undulating masses. M. had two big bulls, one each in pastures across the road from one another, they snorted as they stomped around the field, 2000 pounds of shiny blackness and solid power.
Aunt C. looks exactly like my grandmother with nips of my mother jumping in now and then in a smile, mannerism or expression. She's still going strong, 13 years younger than my mother, we went to the gym together and worked out. She taught me to bake my grandmothers rolls, which she does by feel rather than by measurement, I hope I can carry on the gauntlet. We stood in the kitchen together by the stove, eating them for dessert, fresh from the oven. They were scrumptious; soft, brown and buttery. We too looked over the box of family history I had carted along with me, C. filled in some blanks, gave me info on my Grandaddy's side of the family to help fill in the picture, we have info from Grandmothers family all the way back to the first colonies in 1715. She helped ID some of the mysterious faces in my tattered albums, others stare out from the browning photos, dressed in victorian high collars, too old for anyone to remember.
I journeyed on through the Mississippi delta and crossed the wide muddy river. The low winter sun, just a week before the solstice, shone across the flat land, lighting the bare trees at the back of fields bright green with winter wheat. White cotton piled at the edges of the road, bare pecan trees, vase-like, lined up in ancient groves. On to Little Rock and my fathers side of the family. I'm at Aunt H's house now, my fathers mothers last house, tiny and filled with family heirlooms, china, crystal and silver from a century ago.
We too reviewed the pictures and family trees. Yesterday we marveled at my great grandmothers autograph albums from the 1880's, brown pages dissolving under our fingers, lined with fancy script and expressions from a time long gone. My cousins here, showed off their offspring and told tales of the family reunions, games we played as children, the deaths of those that have traveled on before us. This side of the family can trace our roots to the Virginia colonies as well. So much history, so much past, all waiting to be revealed.
Last night I tossed in the antique bed, birthing this post and woke at 5 to a flash of lightening and the sound of thunder. I rose and stood on the carport, listening to the sound of rain pattering on the roof, so foreign after all these months of dry. I looked down at the lights of North Little Rock, glowing like stars through the bare trees and fog. Today I will travel with my beloved brother J. to Hot Springs for yet another chapter, more reminiscing, more reviewing of where we came from and who we all are now.