At the ol’ home place, it’s always the same. Every time the kinfolk come to visit, the placard goes up at the front door. “Grand Central Station”, it says. The sign takes its rightful place long before the swirling dust on the road announces the relatives’ arrival.
They are a rowdy bunch—appearing at the family farm like a hurricane from the south. Dogs bark. Pigs go to squealing. A nanny goat gallops about madly.
The farmhouse door flies open and the kinfolk blow in—a whirl of noise and confusion. The goat wanders into the house. The relatives send their jackets and junk sailing to forbidden regions. Stuff and fluff…coats and goats—they’re all under the Grandmother Jurisdiction. Granny chases down the unruly jackets, corralling them in a bedroom. The unruly goat is ushered outside. There she stands, peering in the window.
“What’s Granny cooking?” somebody says. “I’m starving!”
“Are we gonna eat, now?”
That’s the main thing on everyone’s minds. Top of the agenda at the family farm. Eating….
“Look here!” my sister says. “I brought stew, today. Try some! It’s a lot better than Sooooeeey Soup!”
Everyone laughs and we all sit down to eat. Who can forget that infamous day when we first sampled Sooooeeey Soup? Accidentally, of course.
In the midst of a family farm feast, someone had set a large kettle of steaming soup on the table. We ladled it into our bowls, but soon uneasiness spread around the table. Nobody wanted to offend the cook, but something had to be said.
“Uh, are those potato peelings in this soup?”
“And onion skins?
“Dirty carrots from the garden…?”
“Doesn’t taste too bad. Kinda gritty, though.”
“Needs more salt…Definitely!”
Granny was called on to give an account. She peered into the murky depths of the kettle. “What in the world?” she said. “I cooked that stuff up for Goldy-hocks and the others. That’s pig slop!”
We all put down our spoons. The offending kettle was removed. “I knew it needed more salt!” my brother said.
Eating resumed—a bit more cautiously this time.
A normal person can’t survive such tribal initiations. You have to be born into this clan in order to endure it. I remember when my late husband joined our tribe. He was clearly taken aback by our quirkiness…the crazy outbursts, the strange rites and family rituals. He could only shake his head in wonder and dismay. I suspect our rowdiness might have had something to do with his early demise…although I couldn’t prove it. He considered us wild and uncouth. Noisy and uncultured. He was probably glad to go heaven early and leave the rest of us to our wrangling.
Today, the atmosphere around the family table is as raucous as ever.
Amid the racket comes the insistent yapping of a dog, regular as clockwork. A black mop of a dog sits at Granny’s feet, barking for tidbits from the table. It is an annoying sound—but no worse, really, than the general hubbub.
“I don’t like that green stuff!” a child pouts. “Why is it on my plate?”
Them’s fightin’ words!
Poppa frowns. “You don’t like fried green onions?” Poppa thunders. “Something’s wrong with kids, nowadays…Can’t eat perfectly good food! I don’t know about this generation! How are they ever going to survive?” He spears the offending green thing off the child’s plate and eats it. “Did I ever tell you about the time I had to eat a blue jay?”
We sigh. Forty-seven times, Poppa…Forty-seven times. Someone skillfully changes the subject. “Hey! What are we going to do for fun on this visit?”
The air is suddenly filled with suggestions. They sail about the room like paper airplanes, colliding with one another in a noisy hullabaloo.
“I want to ride down the Humpty Dumpty Road ! Can we, Poppa?”
“What about the cliffs?” someone else says. “We can go climbing….”
“Maybe we could ride Pickle’s go-cart, or his glider…?”
“I know!” someone shouts. “We could fly Poppa’s hot air balloon!”
At the mention of the balloon, the clamor increases. Who can forget that day? It was a hallmark in family history….a comedy of errors from start to finish. The day Poppa dragged his old, basketless balloon out of the barn and we all made it fly with the help of a hot wood-stove.
It was a hoot!
Nearly killed us all before it was over. (The story of our balloon adventures appeared in an international flying magazine…So—Poppa’s balloon ended up going around the world. Quite a feat for such a ratty piece of fabric.)
The discussion of the balloon is going hot and heavy when my brother’s words override us all. Pickle can out-shout anybody. “Listen now! Everybody has to help me get on that T.V. show, Survivor!” he says.
The room goes strangely silent. We stare at him.
“Yeah!” Pickle says. “I want to get on that show, but first I have to make a demo video!” My brother brandishes an invisible hatchet. “I’m going to show them how to be a real man! How to swing from the trees and….”
We all resume talking at once. Serious discussions, now, about surviving in the wild—life and death matters…Tribal orientations. Eating blue jays, if necessary. Poppa’s time-worn story gains sudden respect.
We gab. We laugh. We digress to other subjects. Eventually the long, drawn-out meal ends in the usual way…with the Gathering-of-the-Sacred-Bites. A quirky tradition of uncertain origins—the collecting of the last dab of mashed potatoes, a leftover scoop of beans. The last drumstick. A strange ritual even in a family as odd as ours. It is our one and only attempt at civility, I believe.
No one ever eats the last dab of food on the platter.
Soon, the Sacred Bites are collected and stored away in the fridge to be resurrected at a later date. Green and moldy, the Sacred Bites will then be deposited into the slop bucket. And that’s ok. That’s just the way it is, and always will be.
In the midst of the food-gathering ritual, the front door flies open. More people troop in–distant cousins, friends, neighbors—followed by the goat. Dogs bark. Kids scream. The nanny butts somebody, and the black mop of a dog makes a dive for someone’s ankle. Shrieks rend the air.
“Come on in!” everyone shouts to the newcomers.
“Welcome to the Funny Farm!”
Grand Central Station. Dysfunction Junction. Survivor Island .
Indeed. Welcome! Grab a chair and a plate and have a Sacred Bite, or maybe a bowl of Sooooeeey! Never mind the cantankerous nanny, or the man brandishing an invisible hatchet, or the ankle-biting dog. Never mind the old granddad and his blue jays.
Never fear. We are good people…. Ordinary. Sane.
I look at the motley clan about me, relishing the antics and the inherited quirks, the laughter and the shouts. We are Survivors on our own little island—a tribe, bonded together with flesh and blood and memories. We have traditions and trademarks. Hoopla and history and heritage.
Life just wouldn’t be the same without this noisy crew…this human hurricane that takes over the farm.
I slip out the back door and sit on the porch swing. The swing creaks. The creek frogs croak. And the crickets go on cricketing. Across the farmyard comes the yells and banter of a dozen voices, all trying to out-shout one another. The yap of Granny’s mop-dog. The chatter of children.
Laughter coasts down the valley and across the Barada Hills where our ancestors’ voices have echoed for generations. It is an unforgettable sound—an echo that transcends the ages. The sound of love and bonding and togetherness.
I smile to myself.
We are kinfolk. We are family. And oh how I love it….When the relatives come!