We Arrive With Red Dirt On The Wheels…

The following is a guest blog by a dear friend. I thought it was one of the best things I have ever seen in print, so it’s being shared here. I’m encouraging my dear friend to continue this writing and make it into a book. Leave a comment below if you agree.

A caravan of Caravans to Hart County…we returned with red dirt on the wheels.

My grandma (Myrtle Fules – known as “Mertie”) goes to visit her family in Georgia every year. This year my father and I traveled with her for Mertie’s family reunion.

Upon arriving at the picnic/park where the reunion is held, there is a giant sign that says, “Welcome Fules.” There are lots of children and I am surprised at how many of my relatives smoke and are very overweight. My grandma is the oldest living member of the family and she looks about 30 years younger and 50 pounds lighter than everyone there. They are a rough-looking crowd but the food is really, really good.

Mystery casseroles (all with some sort of mush on the bottom and crispy covering on top), fried fish, hush puppies, PIES, cakes, fried chicken, watermelon and potatoes in every form stretch along 6 or 7 picnic tables. There is a ceremonial unveiling of the food as everyone uncovers their dish…a prayer is said and everyone attacks the food as if they have been starved for weeks. The lady in front of me is holding three plates and three forks while screaming at her grandchildren “I’m fixin’ to beat you if you don’t tell me what you want to eat!”

I wait patiently for the unruly children to choose their food. I wonder where their parents are.

I have been given a name tag and instructions to write down my name and the name of the person I am ‘kin’ to…my name tag says “Jane/Mertie”. I guess this is to weed out potential party crashers  and also to spark conversation such as this:

“Hey, Jane. You must be Mertie’s grandbaby”.

I nod and say “yes. Yes, I am”.

“You guys came from Virginia?”

“Yes. Yes, we did”

And so on and so forth….

We sit down to eat and I find myself sitting across from my Uncle Jimmy. Now that I have told you his name, you officially know as much about him as I do. He is old and very thin and we enjoy our food in complete silence. The only words exchanged were him looking up and saying “Bring me some fried pies”.

I was a little surprised at the request but I went and got them anyway. The only remaining pies were soggy ones from the bottom but he didn’t
seem to notice. He ate them and then smoked a cigarette. The end.

I will probably never see Uncle Jimmy again but our brief time together was good.

Because the children are loud and appear very sticky after the meal, I try to stay far away from them. Someone hands them all boiled peanuts in
ziploc bags, I am grateful for this as it seems to keep them all very occupied. I watch them, wondering how they can eat that nasty crap. I feel
like I’m at the zoo.

Everyone starts to leave. People leave as quickly as they came, plates are prepared for people that could not be there and for dogs. The dishes with the mystery casseroles are snatched up, I wonder how anyone can tell the difference between the many oblong glass dishes.

We retire to my Aunt Sara’s trailer. She lives on a small piece of land with 5 other trailers, all of which are inhabited by other relatives. There are three graves on this land and several inoperable cars. There are also lots of tragic looking animals and a caged-in dog that I affectionately call Cujo.

Each night, Aunt Anne drags out a slab of raw meat and tosses it over the 6 foot chain link fence that keeps Cujo contained. I can’t see the dog and Anne explains to me that they must not remove the combination of plywood and beach towels that cover the cage from view because “he gets real excited”. It’s hard to imagine having a “pet” that becomes dangerous and uncontrollable at the mere sight of humans.

Nascar is on the TV in Sara’s trailer but the sound is turned off so that everyone can talk about the reunion. I hate Nascar but I’m unable
to look away from the TV.  The conversation becomes heated as scandalous topics are discussed: Alma took an entire pecan pie home even though she didn’t bring anything. Mattie sat at the dessert table by herself and therefore, is faking diabetes.

Louise’s husband hasn’t left her yet. The fried fish was bad and John Thomas doesn’t know how to cook OR make homemade blueberry ice cream.

I can only imagine what the other families are saying about us in their trailers. Weight gain, weight loss, health, professions, monetary status, clothing and more; the discussion goes on for a long time. Occasionally, I yawn. Someone, each time, looks at me says , “Aw, you tired baby?”

I say, “No, I’m ok,” and smile.

I look at my dad across the room. He sits and stares vacantly into space.  He looks as if he has had a frontal lobotomy.

The only thing he has contributed to the conversation is this: “I had some banana pudding, it was very good.”

His input went unnoticed so I help him out by saying: “I had chicken and ritz cracker casserole, it was also very good”.

We leave the next day. I feel strangely sad. Georgia, Hartwell in Hart County, is a nice place with nice people and even though a very small
amount of matching dna is all that ties me to it, I enjoyed my time there.

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