OF THE NOT-SO-SUPER 8
I slept like a log last night but not long enough. I was so tired when T's Dad came knocking on the door. We showered and dressed and headed towards Shoney's for the first reunion of the day.
The Goodson family is the family of T's mother. A bunch of them live in and around Jonesboro and decided to get together for breakfast. I met lots of people, some I'm sure I'll never see again in my life. One of the more intriguing ones was Paul, T's cousin. I'd have to describe him as a southern renaissance man. He's currently a student as Arkansas State University studying business. He grew up in a family of farmers and helps bring in the rice and cotton when he's not in class. He's extremely tan with a baby-face and a bright, white grin. He also appeared to be, surprisingly enough, an avid antiques shopper. He said we should come out here and learn to farm. I told him he'd have to show us how. There's is something to getting things from the earth verses creating transient digital imagery. I could ponder nobility of goals verses substance and long-term worth but I already have a heat-induced headache.
It was hot. At first I laughed at all the people moaning about the heat. I mean, this is Arkansas, what did you expect? However, I was soon informed that this was an unnaturally hot day. Great.
After breakfast, I took a nap and then we went to the second reunion, the Willetts. This is the family of T's grandmother, Bert. I met lots more people that I might never meet again.
My favorite had to be Great Uncle Chauncey. (I'm not sure if that's how it's spelled since everyone called him "con-see" with a hard 'c', emphasis on the first syllable, but I don't know any other way.) When T. introduced me he pulled me closer until his eyes could focus on my face. He gave me a hug and looked me over. Then he patted T. on the back and said, "I approve." Then he started talking about how much T. had grown and all the changes in the family. He started crying and let the tears roll down his cheeks as we talked about the South and places we'd been. He told me of a shipyard he worked on in Biloxi. He knew names and dates without hesitating. You had to speak up in order for him to hear you but he didn't have a problem understanding. It seems as though his body is failing him long before his mind.
T. and I talked a long while with the resident genealogist who is keeping track and tracking the Willett family. I got officially entered in the books as the bride of T. We sat outside to warm up from the over-cooled auditorium and talked about ancestors and genealogy and family. I kept an eye on the group of five old men in lawn chairs, one of them Chauncey, as they talked and smoked. At one point one guy stood up and said loudly, "Hey -- where's Tom?!" The guy sitting two chairs over said slowly and loudly, "Well, I'm right here." Then he turned to Chauncey and said something to which he replied, "What?!" He repeated himself and Chaucey said "oh" and then said something completely unrelated to what the guy had asked him. To which, of course, the guy responded, "What?!" and it went on and on.
After the reunion we went driving around the old streets of Jonesboro and past many former stores which have been closed down or turned into Bingo halls. The people there blame Wal-Mart for coming to town and killing local commerce. However, they all shop there.
Wal-Mart. It sound southern even without an accent. Draw out the first 'a'. Waaal-Mart.
I was shown "the biggest rice distillery in all the country" which was an industrial site to behold. Who knew that rice was growing in Arkansas? It's huge. The funniest story about that is when Bert talked about one of her daughters-in-law first trip to Jonesboro. It was at night and she saw the lights from the top of the distillery and said, "Why, I didn't know Jonesboro had a skyline." Everyone laughed and laughed.
We left Jonesboro around 8 p.m., a three-car caravan. First we stopped to pick up some provisions at Marsha's house. She lives out in the real country and there were fireflies everywhere. I wanted to jump out and catch them but was told the 'squitos would eat me alive. I read my book, Blood Work by Michael Connelly, by the light of the headlamps behind me.
At some point, T. drove one of the cars and we took the two kids, Phillip - 16 and Jessica - 11, in the back seat. They had CDs so we all tried to find something we could agree on. I relented and let Jessica put in Ricky Martin and skipped through nearly every song.
We got to Jackson, Mississippi, around midnight and pulled into the Super 8. T. and I shared a room with his parents. The AC in our room pumped fetid air and competed for volume with the ice maker outside our door. That was nothing to the terror and agitation which would clutch our hearts at 3 a.m. -- the sound of his mother snoring. Such a sound has never been heard on this earth before. T. and I giggled and hid under the covers, making up stories to explain the origin of such an unholy ruckus.
We contemplated our choices: either go to an all-night diner and drink coffee or go and sleep in the car. At some point in the debate we fell asleep.
We weren't the only ones to get little sleep that night. When T. and I met up with the rest of the bunch at IHOP (International House of Pancakes, don't ya know?) we heard various tales of woe. T's father had gotten up early for coffee in the lobby. He said that every single person had some sort of complaint and wanted restitution. Marsha said that she had contemplated sleeping in the car. It would have been too funny had we all ended up in the parking lot.
The food was good and our waitress was remarkably cheery. At this point, anyone who wasn't kicking us in the head felt like a good person. We caller her our Angel of Mercy. She really was a great waitress.
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