Barring chicken pox or a monster storm, Sunday mornings of my childhood found my family driving the long winding clay roads of Jeff Davis County to my maternal grandparents’ farmhouse out close to Union Springs Church. Not only my grandparents awaited us there; my cousins were everywhere. Very rarely did my mothers’ nine siblings and their offspring show up at the same time, but some combination was always there. Cousins galore came in droves every Sunday. Several of them lived within walking distance and always arrived before we did. After all, eleven miles separated our Hazlehurst home from Grandpa’s country one. By the time we arrived, cousins were everywhere.
Our first order of Sunday business was to load the Union Springs Church bus, driven by my teenaged Uncle Roy, and attend church. (A teenager driving a bus full of youngsters was quite legal and widely approved of by parents and grandparents alike. He did have a license, after all.) We picked up various other passengers along the way, but the adults stayed at Grandpa’s to prepare dinner and chat. Rather, I guess that’s what they did. I was always sent off to church, so I really can’t vouch for that. I do know that a huge Sunday dinner covered Grandma’s table when we returned: big platters of biscuits from the black belly of Grandma’s cast iron stove, cane syrup and homemade butter, smoked ham, fried chicken, beans, tomatoes, and summer squash from the garden. After we all ate our fill, the adults cleaned while we cousins hit the yard-our own personal domain that we shared only with Old Jack, the hound dog.
I learned much under those oaks trees as we ran and played tag. First of all, country cousins could always outrun us town cousins. I’d stumble over my feet while they went flying by me. They knew where the best hiding places were; I could never find them when they hid, but they always found me. Barefoot, they ran wild year round, wearing bothersome shoes only to church and to school. Mama made me wear mine once the weather turned cool. They knew to watch out for snakes and where to find the best blackberries. They found the most Easter eggs every single year, and one of them always found the coveted prize egg.
These very cousins taught me to ride a bike. My oldest cousin, Edward, helped me get situated at the top of the hill on their old bedraggled bicycle. He spoke a word or two of assurance and then turned me loose. Needless to say, I wound up on the ground with numerous injuries, but I got up to try again so he wouldn’t call me “Cry Baby.”
Years later, when Judy came to stay with us for a while, I gladly shared my room, even though neither of us was a child romping on the farm anymore. She was my cousin. Enough said. I’d been raised to believe that blood was thicker than water.
Now I wonder. I haven’t seen Judy in years, other than at funerals. Many of the myriad cousins don’t even come to funerals anymore. The older generation is gone now; we’ve replaced our parents, our uncles and aunts, and our grandparents. Suddenly we are the older generation. How did that happen? Somewhere between childhood and now, our paths diverged and life got in the way. The world changed. Families don’t visit on Sundays anymore. My children don’t even know some of their cousins. I’m not sure I’d recognize some of mine if they knocked on the front door, since we haven’t seen each other in so long.
Some of us visit now and again on Facebook, the world’s new front porch. We whisper secrets electronically via Messages and post cute pictures of our grandchildren and our dogs. It’s not quite the same though. Some days I really miss Grandpa’s front porch and all those lost cousins. I’m very grateful for the few that do stay in touch. What a blessing they are.