Kinfolk, a word commonly employed during my youth, is seldom heard in conversations of today. I don’t guess it matters when an old term slides gently toward obscurity, but that one landed on a soft spot in my heart a few weeks ago. It reminded me of something important.
My 94-year-old mother has a great-niece, Angela, who lives in Florida. She called Mama in late March to ask about coming to Georgia for a visit. Covid has put a damper on seeing family as well as friends, so it had been too long since we had “laid eyes on her” as people used to say. Armed with two shots of Moderna, we were delighted that Angela and her husband, Jack, wanted to make a trip north.
Jack, we found out later, had asked Angela what she’d like to do on her birthday. She had said, “Go see my kinfolk!” She’s seven years younger than me, too young I would have thought to appreciate such an ancient word. Maybe that’s why it triggered a smile that stretched from my lips to my liver.
Mama’s nieces, Ann and Priscilla, joined us for a small version of a family reunion. With my brother, Jimmy, there were only seven of us, but we laughed enough for thirty-five people. That’s about how many family members used to pack into Grandmama Hill’s house in the fifties and sixties.
Every seat was filled as well as the porch chairs and sometimes the steps, yet my grandmother never seemed flustered by the commotion. She was so busy counting her blessings there wasn’t time for worry. I don’t know who deserves credit for the maxim, “Let gratitude be your attitude,” but I was blessed to be a grandson of someone who had those words etched into her heart.
At our recent gathering we all marveled at how Grandmama could magically squeeze folks into her modest home. The house was literally overflowing yet never felt crowded. I didn’t fully appreciate back then that love easily trumps practicality.
Mrs. Ethel Nelson, a wonderful neighbor and tremendous cook, was often in charge of the small kitchen. After we were too full to think about taking another bite of anything, she’d bring out some warm egg custard pies. Miss Ethel’s pies were so good it led me to sympathize with Adam and Eve.
When gnats would attack me in the cotton field, I’d become aggravated with that first couple for getting kicked out of Eden. Those egg custard pies, however, helped me understand some things are irresistible unless we have a Helper.
The seven of us talked and laughed about Angela’s sweet, sassy, beautiful mother, Sara. And we reminisced about Mama’s brothers, Emmett and Jack, plus other family members no longer with us. Someone mentioned the metal pipe which was wedged between two trees in Grandmama’s back yard. Mama’s nephew, Ray, used to grip it and swing all the way around like an Olympic gymnast.
Ray, almost ten years my senior, let me tag along on some of his adventures. I was with him when he went to get his first car. It was old and Grandaddy pulled it home with a chain behind his truck while Ray steered and braked. A few weeks later, Ray took me on a really fast ride toward Pinehurst that remained our secret until now. He was a hero in my young eyes and still was when leukemia took him away too soon.
Jackie, Ray’s older brother, raced cars on a Cochran track. Jackie could have been the next Fireball Roberts if he’d had more horses under the hood. His need for speed may be why Uncle Sam found him a ride in the skies. He landed his helicopter in Mama’s yard a few times. That was against Army rules, but the promise of hot biscuits made the risk worth taking. Jackie’s rulebook allowed exceptions for family.
After our sumptuous dinners Grandaddy Hill would sit in his big porch rocker and relax with an oversized glass of ice water. The men would join him there, as did the boys until we headed toward the woods to follow the spring-fed streams. No one except our friend Spottie was ever bitten by a snake. I’m not sure how we missed out, but a tan dog of mixed heritage deserved much of the credit.
I’ve rambled along today and not offered much worth remembering. I think what I’m trying to say is we need to spend time with family and friends while we can. Whether we have a full house or just a handful, either way is likely to bring about some laughter and warm our hearts a bit.
Angela helped remind me of something important that’s easy to neglect. Sometimes we need to go see our kinfolk.