Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I've long had a complicated relationship with where I come from.

Northeast Texas is somehow laid back and uptight at the same time. It's steeped in--and sometimes paralyzed by--its own tradition and history. The small towns that dot the landscape are utterly charming to me, but also stifling and depressing. It's where some of my best memories were made, but I have no desire to return there in any kind of permanent way. I can so solidly identify with so much of the culture of northeast Texas but, at the same time, I am sometimes shocked and bewildered by it.

Maybe it's because I'm now in my forties, but for some reason it has become important to me that The Geej understand where her parents come from. That is part of the reason that I wanted her to accompany me to the annual reunion of my dad's side of the family this past weekend. 

When he was alive, my dad was fairly disconnected to his Kilgore-based, very Southern and staunchly religious Pentecostal relations. We would head to my dad's much older sister's house for the obligatory Christmas visit and sometimes see my uncles and cousins there as well, but we were definitely not what I would call a close-knit bunch. They didn't even know how to treat me when my dad died, and I didn't know them well enough to lean on for support.

I headed to the family reunion the summer following my dad's passing because, I don't know, I needed to feel connected or something. It was awkward, but not altogether unpleasant. I was introduced as "James's daughter" so people could place me, and I was offered lots of condolences by those who had known him. They were all happy to see me and called me by my first AND middle names--something unique to this group and oh-so-Southern. Much like my connection to northeast Texas itself, my connection to this group of people felt simultaneously familiar and strange.

Sunday's family reunion attendance was my first since then. It had been eight years. Everyone was so happy to see me and especially to meet The Geej. There were around 50 people in attendance, and about 2/3 of them were in their late 60s or older. Much older. The Pentecostal women with their enormous buns and shapeless dresses all look just alike. They scurried around getting the tables set and the covered dishes overflowing with bad-for-you home cookin' all laid out. The drink choices were Dr. Pepper, sweet tea and water. We stood in a circle and held hands as my dad's eldest brother, my Uncle Roy, offered a blessing before the meal. We ate and chatted and everyone asked The Geej how old she was and commented on her beauty. After lunch, some folks gathered around the piano and sang patriotic songs and hymns together.

I was saddened by how frail my aunts and uncles have become, and thought to myself that this would most likely be the last time I would see some of them alive. However, the drawl of their accents and the sincerity of their love and warmth will always be a part of me and I hope that, in some small way, The Geej felt a connection to it as well.
The Geej and my Aunt Mary Lois

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