A Southern Tradition – Creative Writing Essay
It’s the third week in July. I stand at my mothers’ side with hair moist, clothes damp in this hot, humid Texas heat. Beer is in the hands of various grampas, uncles and
friends all bragging about who bagged the biggest deer, stories of camping out during hunting season. I learn that camping while hunting is more for the campers than for the deer. It seems grampa doesn’t shoot many deer while rosy cheeked and intoxicated. But he sure can exaggerate stories of the one that was standing so close he could see the whites of its eyes. “So, why’d ya miss?” my uncle Harry asks Grampa. With his eyebrow cocked up and that half smile he answers in a slow southern drawl: “Well, just as I was taking my shot, your brother Ray stumbled out of the camp trailer yelling about the ice chest being open – seems all the ice melted.”
Standing at my grampas elbow I am hot, humid and fanning myself with my hands. Heat is searing from the open-sided barbeque pit. Beer is sizzling as my grampa pours it over the meat; the spicy, sweet smelling steam rising to fill the air. That delicious, salivating aroma of beef and chicken quarters and beer marinade with lots of pepper crackling on the pit. The tangy smell wafting in the breeze, I can all but taste the outer edges of the fat frying in the flame. I look around and can see mouths watering in unison and anticipation.
Sitting under ancient pecan trees rustling in the gentle wind, I watch a lonely leaf lazily drift down and rest at my feet. I hear everyone talking, laughing at once. Little kids running wild playing with the water hose. Adults yelling at the kids to play with the hose somewhere else. “You’re making mud!”
And then there’s that one kid, that obnoxious kid that defies the authority of the adult. That kid’s crying in the corner, face hanging, crocodile tears in his eyes begging – every two minutes or so: “Can I come out now? Please! I promise I’ll be good!” His pleas are answered with a quiet and threatening “Do you want some Peach Tree Tea?!” Just hearing that phrase makes my bottom sore! I remember my Granny asking me that same question when I was acting up. I would answer with a foolish and unknowing “Yeah!”, and despondently drag my feet to the old peach tree to grudgingly pick a switch. Looks like this kid’s smarter than I was, he’s suddenly fascinated by the cobwebs in the top of the corner.
Peaking in the kitchen, I see the women are readying various potato salads, macaroni salads, deviled eggs – making iced tea. I catch my grampa’s wife, Sandy, pouring a little J.D. in her 44 oz mug of ice and coke. I hear them talking about the men, their love of their trucks, week-long hunting trips (you know the kind that don’t yield much in the way of deer), and cowboy hats. My Uncle Harry is sneaking around the kitchen trying to snatch a deviled egg. I announce to Sandy what he’s doing and, while she is distracted shooing him out, I steal a deviled egg or two for myself.
Walking through the family room, MTV is blaring for the teenagers who are too full of angst and apathy to join in the festivities. Caring for nothing, my older cousins are bored. Sitting in their black clothes and greasy hair, I can nearly see the dirty grey/brown aura they give off. Thinking their indifference is cool, rolling their eyes and huffing their disdain for the cheerful goings on around them. They want to join, but I suspect that would ruin their image.
Everywhere I look people are hugging. The oldest people are marveling at the youngest children, how they’ve grown, how cute they are, and – when the parents aren’t in earshot, what “little brats” they are. “I wouldn’t let my child act that way in public.” “Someone needs to tell that child to go pick a switch!” Momo and Popo are giving out kisses and hugs to anyone that ventures by. My Momo sits with perfect rigid posture for a woman of 86. Her hair in the same bob she’s worn since the early nineteen thirties, one pinwheel curl in the front, her lips vibrant with Coty red lipstick. My poor Popo is being bossed around by Momo. He shuffles off to do her bidding with a sigh and a shake of his head. This is nothing new; it’s been this way as long as I can remember.
In the back bedroom window rock music is blaring loud and distorted -something old – Lynard Skynnard or AC/DC. My uncle Ray, already half toasted, is nodding his head to the beat. Wearing an old trucker hat, a faded red tank top – you know the kind with the big arm holes, an old pair of Wrangler shorts – the kind that rest an inch ABOVE the knee and high top sneakers. His eyes are in slits. He smiles his good ‘ol boy smile with his redneck version Fu Man Chu mustache.
Suddenly, my grampa declares the food to be done. “Soups on!” he hollers. In a flurry of movement the oldest people line up to get their plates, the mothers’ fix plates for youngest children and everyone settles to eat. As suddenly as it begun, it’s over. A quite calm is in the air. I can hear my lips smacking, everyone’s fingers being licked and the occasional grunting of approval. The music is turned down. The TV is off. Dusk is falling and with it all the excitement of the afternoon. Here we sit unified by family and food, hearts and stomachs full. Feeling content in mind, body, belly and soul.
Looking around, I am overwhelmed by the generations that span nearly a hundred years. I’m awestruck with way that good food and good company can bring a whole family together. I am proud to be here, to be where I belong. Where love is the feeling, summer is the time and the family reunion is the place.