ANOTHER HAPPY SAD DAY

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Here is a true story I re-tell every Thanksgiving, just

to remind myself and you that everything that really

matters is right before us, all the time. Here ‘tis:

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THANKSGIVING:

THE HAPPIEST SAD DAY OF THE YEAR

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The saddest thing I ever saw: a small, well-dressed elderly woman dining alone at Morrison’s Cafeteria, on Thanksgiving Day.

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Oh there are many other sadnesses you can find if you look hard enough, in this variegated world of ours, but a diner alone on Thanksgiving Day makes you feel really fortunate, guilty, smug, relieved, tearful, grateful…it brings you up short and makes you time-travel to the pockets of joy and cheer you experienced in earlier days…

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Crepe paper. Lots of crepe paper. And construction paper. Bunches of different-colored construction paper. In my childhood home in Tuscaloosa, my Thanksgiving Mother always made sure we creative and restless kids had all the cardboard, scratch paper, partly-used tablets, corrugated surfaces, unused napkins, backs of cancelled checks, rough brown paper from disassembled grocery bags, backs of advertising letters and flyers…anything at all that we could use to make things. Yes, dear 21st-Century young’uns, we kids back then made things from scraps.

We could cut up all we wanted, and cut up we did.

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We cut out rough rectangular sheets from stiff black wrapping paper and glued the edges together to make Pilgrim hats. Old belt buckles were tied to our shoelaces—we never could get it straight, whether the Pilgrims were Quakers, or vice versa, or neither. But it always seemed important to put buckles on our shoes and sandals, wear tubular hats and funny white paper collars, and craft weird-looking guns that flared out like trombones at one end. More fun than being a Pilgrim/Quaker was being an Indian—a true blue Native American, replete with bare chest, feathers shed by neighborhood doves, bows made of crooked twigs and kite string, arrows dulled at the tip by rubber stoppers and corks, and loads of Mother’s discarded rouge and powder and lipstick and mashed cranberries smeared here and there on face and body, to make us feel like the Indians we momentarily were.

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Sister Barbara and Mother would find some long autumnal-hued dresses for the occasion, but they were seldom seen outside the kitchen for hours on end, while the eight-course dinner was under construction.

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There was always an accordion-fold crepe paper turkey centerpiece on display, hastily bought on sale at S.H. Kress, just after last year’s Thanksgiving season. It looked nothing like my Aunt Mattie’s turkeys in her West Blocton front yard. And for some reason, we ate cranberry products on that day and that day only. Nobody ever thought about cranberries the other 364 days! And those lucky turkeys were lucky because nobody ever thought of eating them except at Thanksgiving and Christmas. They were home free the rest of the year!

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Now, back into the time machine of just a few years ago.

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It is Thanksgiving Day. My wife and son and granddaughter are all out of the country. Other family and relatives are either dead or gone, or just plain tied up with their own lives in other states, doing things other than having Thanksgiving Dinner with me.

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My brother, Tim, my friends Tim Baer and Don Henderson and I decide that we will have to spend Thanksgiving Dinner together, since each of us is bereft of wife or playmate or relative, this particular holiday this particular year.

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So, we wind up at Morrison’s Cafeteria, eating alone together, going through the line and picking out steamed-particle-board turkey, canned cranberries, thin gravy, boxed mashed potatoes and some bakery goods whose source cannot easily be determined.

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But we laugh at our situation and each other, tell jokes, cut up a bit, and thank our lucky stars that this one Thanksgiving Dinner is surely just a fluke. We’ll be trying that much harder, next year, to not get blind-sided by the best holiday of the year, Thanksgiving being the only holiday you don’t have to give gifts or reciprocate gifts or strain to find the correct gifts.

Left to right: Tim Reed, Tim Baer, Jim Reed lining up for Thanksgiving.

Don Henderson is behind the camera.

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On Thanksgiving holidays ever since, I make sure I’m with family and friends, and now and then I try to set a place at the table of my mind, for any little old lady or lone friend who might want to join us…for the second saddest thing I’ve ever seen is a happy family lustily enjoying a Thanksgiving feast together and forgetting for a moment about all those lone diners in all the cafeterias of the world who could use a kind glance and a smile

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© 2016 A.D. by Jim Reed

 

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The Final Resting Place of All Objects Wonderful

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As Jerry Seinfeld recently insinuated, the daily repetitiveness of life can be mind-numbing if you let it get the best of you.
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I understand the sentiment.
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On any given day it’s easy to let down my guard and allow reality to creep in and crawl about, disrupting the fun and funny things that abound.
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Fortunately, there are different kinds of reality, some frightening, some quite wonderful.
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At the Museum of Fond Memories, I admit only the good realities, the good memories, the good memorabilia, shockingly stunning positive reminders of how nice life can be, how nice recalling the best of times can feel.
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That’s why there are thousands of objects on view, each designed to caress a specific fond memory and jolt it into action before you have time to forbid its ability to make you smile—even when you are dead set against smiling this particular day. The right object will get to you, and you just may have a lovely moment you did not attempt to have.
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Maybe I can get to you right this moment. If you dare to let me, simply click below and close your eyes for two minutes:
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That wasn’t so painful, was it? Seinfeld would be proud.

Let’s do this again sometime

(c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

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The Last of the Red-Hot Neighborhood Watchersespn3.com

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The Queen of Southside Birmingham is dead.

Long live the Queen.

Our 92-year-old neighbor Margaret Selman left us happy. She wanted nothing more than to join her late husband and best friend, Frank, and she died smiling and excitedly talking about the prospect. She left us neighbors happy—happy with good memories of the way she ran the ‘hood for nearly a century.

This is not some kind of soppy obituary designed to paint Margaret as a perfect person, not designed to make you think I was always the best neighbor I could be. I just want you to get a quick thumbnail image of Margaret in your mind.

First of all, her throne was the wrap-around porch of the big two-story 1906 home she and Frank kept immaculate all those years. She held court each evening when the weather was right, and folks came from miles around to sip some sweet tea and share gossip and laughter for a few minutes under Frank’s big ceiling fan.

Any evening you might see a parked police car, indicating some officers were sitting and chatting and catching up on street news. An occasional city council member or merchant or dogwalker or wanderer or priest might stop and smile and listen to Margaret’s very long, very detailed, and very accurate tales. And she remembered each and every person, if not by name, then certainly by physical description.

One other thing: Nobody ever said NO to Margaret and got away with it. She was a powerhouse persuader, and most of us just learned to give in and enjoy the ride. Frank never said NO to her, either. He would give her anything she ever wanted. And he loved every minute of it.

Margaret was a walking genealogy reference and historian—she could recite the names and addresses of each and every family who had lived in each and every house for a two-block radius over a seven-decade period. And she knew where the bodies were buried. She knew who was Catholic, who was Jewish, who was Heathen, who was kind, who was spirited, who was unkind. You could always run a character reference on someone you didn’t know.

And she was a great guardian of the ‘hood. At any hour of the day or night, she and Frank would chase ambulances and fire engines if they stopped nearby, always ready to help stressed-out people, always ready to fill in the details of the incident when you dropped by later.

This was Margaret’s neighborhood, and she felt safe and protected no matter what went on around her, because she remembered how safe and protected she had been as a little girl in the big house in the 1920′s and ’30′s. After all, she resided in the house for all but two of her 92 years and would never consider moving anywhere else.

Just the other afternoon, when Margaret’s daughter Becky walked across the yard to tell me her mom had gone away a few minutes earlier, still smiling, I felt the slam of a large dome dropping over the ‘hood. For a few moments, the dome retained all the laughter and fun we’d had over the  decades, laughing and talking and eating all the wonderful sweets the Selmans kept on hand for guests, all the babies and grandbabies and great-grandbabies Margaret had bounced on her knee, all the time she’d come to our rescue and we to hers. Then, the dome lifted, no longer needed, since all the good times were permanently embedded in my own memories and the memories of everyone who ever spent time with her. Now we can carry her sweet smile and bawdy laughter with us as inspiration for how we will treat our own family and acquaintances.

Margaret and Frank were the models for what good neighbors can be.

And rather than wistfully rue their passing, it’s fitting that I carry their legacy forward and become a model neighbor myself. As difficult as that might be

(c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

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The Mystery of the Tilted Skirt and the Airy Toga

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In memory most fertile, my time machine takes me back to THE STAGE….THE THEATRE…THE COMPANY OF THESPIANS.

I’m way back in time now, when I am  a young teenager who loves nothing better than to be On Stage, acting in a play. Performing gets into my blood early on, in grammar school, when I learn that the only time anybody pays attention to what I do or say is when I am in front of an audience.

Don’t ask me why this is true, I don’t understand it myself. Other shy people have shared similar experiences—being shy, some of them naturally gravitate toward the performing arts.

Anyhow, being an ACTOR is fun. Mainly, because I get to be around ACTRESSES—they pay attention to me while girls at school primarily ignore me.

The fact that I’m an ACTOR instead of an ACTRESS is quite a relief. I’ve learned that wearing a dress or skirt or toga on stage is no fun at all.

For instance, I go down to the high school auditorium to try out for a part in a touring PASSION PLAY—the theatrical troupe needs local extras and I’ve never been in a national production, so I hang around till they cast me as one of Jesus’ disciples. I’m in yet another play!

During first rehearsal, I learn two valuable lessons—first, never do anything to distract the audience. I’m sitting at the Last Supper and Jesus is passing around bread and wine. As the bread nears, I notice that a cup is blocking the way and will probably be knocked over by the distracted actor sitting next to me. I quickly move the cup—just in time—but am also quickly chastised for the unrehearsed movement. Oops! I just upstaged Jesus himself!

The other lesson I learn is that biblical garb is airy—I’m wearing a short gladiator-length tunic and feel about as naked as a newborn. How do women adjust to this kind of potential exposure? Being a “pro,” I pretend it’s not a problem and manage to perform in the play and retain my modesty, but a major life decision is made: I’ll never accept a stage role that requires any garb other than pants. I’m not cut out to dress like modern women or ancient men.

My father is partially relieved, since his generation quietly fears that, by hanging around gay men and loose women in the theatre, I just might “become” one of the former or carouse with one of the latter. I wind up carousing with less-than-loose women a bit, so he replaces his homophobia with loosewomenaphobia. Talk about mixed emotions—he’s relieved I’m not gay, but now he’s worried I’m going to get into trouble with them female types!

Anyhow, I still enjoy the fact that women usually wear dresses and skirts, but I’m glad I’m not required to wear them. After acting, I know how it feels, and I am left with a kind of awe at how self-confident women must be compared to men. Makes me respect them that much more.

Guess I’ll hitch up my pants and see whether Liz would like to carouse

 

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Outside-in socks, neatly folded underpants and buttoned-up Book-Em Danno shirts as evidence of character

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Outside-in socks, neatly folded underpants

and buttoned-up Book-Em Danno shirts as evidence of character

 

This evening, I open the first big bag of wash-dry-fold from an unfamiliar neighborhood laundry and wish for the best.

After all, for decades, the Laundry Ladies at the just-closed Flamingo Cleaners have been taking care of us—the Reed family of 17th Street South. Each week, I gather everything dirty-but-washable into these drawstring bags and toss them over the banister to the foyer below. The resultant THUDS are part of the ritual of the morning. Then, I lug the bags to the car and drop them off on the way to work. At the end of the day, there are few things more satisfying than still-warm gently-sorted-and-folded sweet-smelling garments ready to be tucked away in closets and drawers. The most satisfying part of this ritual is the fact that, in all these decades, I haven’t had to wash a single item of clothing myself!

Back in a previous life, the task of sitting for hours in a laundromat usually fell to me, and I always considered it to be an incredible waste of perfectly good time. I recall as a small child watching my mother literally toil over clothes-washing, having to stir  and scrub them by hand in a tub, rinse them, wring them out, hoist the water-heavy garments onto her shoulders to the backyard, where they were one by one tidily smoothed straight and hung out to dry, later to be brought inside, pressed, sorted, folded and put away.

But, as I say, I got out of having to feed quarters into broken machinery many moons ago, and my mother eventually got some machinery that made her life somewhat easier. I just never got her toil out of my mind and hoped my wife would never have to do what she had to do.

Anyhow, the Laundry Ladies always took care of the task, usually with good humor and silent professionalism. And, unlike Mother, they were paid to do so.

But today is the first day I’ve had to use a new wash-dry-fold facility, and I’m hoping for the best.

As I empty the clothes onto the upstairs master bed, I’m pleasantly surprised. And grateful! That’s because I begin to realize, as I put things away, that the new laundry folder has added personality to the process. My socks, always turned inside-out because I wear them that way, have been methodically matched and turned outside-in, because that’s the way socks should be. My BOOK-EM DANNO shirts are not only folded, but they are buttoned up—something I’ve never experienced. Everything is categorized and ready to use.

This might be evidence of someone who truly loves the job of washing-drying-folding, someone who takes pride in the task, someone who gains some degree of satisfaction from having done well what could be considered an uninteresting and repetitive chore.

So, what’s the difference between this service worker and my previous Laundry Ladies?

Not much, on one level—the Laundry Ladies were very proficient, friendly, poorly paid and overworked, but they kept on keeping on, doing what they could do, and doing it dependably well. The mysterious new laundry worker is equally task-driven and polite, but that extra bit of care, that WILLINGNESS TO DO MORE THAN THE JOB REQUIRES, speaks of an earlier generation, an almost forgotten work ethic that only us geezers with good memories recall.

This makes me wish to do a shout-out of THANKS! to all people who rise above their potentially humdrum jobs. The people who take time to find some joy and satisfaction in the hands they are dealt. The people who tend to do that special one little thing beyond the call of duty and cause an involuntary smile to appear on a customer’s face.

Makes me want to be a better worker myself

 

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The 15 Immutable Rules of Real Life

15 IMMUTABLE RULES OF REAL LIFE

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1.    Things don’t sell for what they’re worth, they sell for what they go for.

2.    An outgoing smile is no indication whether there will be an incoming one.

3.    Smile only if it makes you feel good…don’t expect it to be returned.

Appreciate it if it is.

4.    A fake smile is almost always detectable.

5.    If you find it hard to smile, just think about what is worth smiling about in your life

and go with that.

6.    A smile may not be your umbrella on a rainy rainy day, but it can help you have fun

getting soaked. Imagine Gene Kelly, who was running a fever the day he filmed the

famous rain scene.

7.    If you’re afraid you’ll lose face, trying to smile when you don’t feel like it, just sneer

and turn it upside down. Post this sign in front of you at all times: SNILE!

8.    First-class people associate themselves with first-class people Second-class people

associate themselves with third-class people.

9.    Do nice unto others as you would have them do nice unto you. But if they continue

not doing nice unto you, drop them and associate only with those who do.

10.  Smile a lot, at nothing at all. It will make people think you know something they

don’t. It will drive your enemies crazy. It will draw nice people to you and help you

identify people who aren’t.

11.  Those who are tardy do not get fruit cup.

12.  Those who do not find their mittens do not get pie. Even if they find their mittens,

they still may not get pie.

13.  Sometimes, the sky really is falling.

14.  Every good idea eventually backfires.

15.  Even if something can’t possibly happen, it might.

© 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed

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The best $2-an-hour fried chicken Baptist happy hour Sunday lunch in these here parts

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“Hmm…this is…superb!” I say to Liz, who is sitting across the table from me at Cracker Barrel, digging into her Sunday lunch veggie plate.

I’m referring to the crunchy, heavily breaded and deep-fried boneless chicken part that just disappeared into my mouth. It’s been a long time since I’ve tasted chicken that seems fresh and moist and crumbly all at the same moment. It’s as if someone just prepared it from an old family recipe. Is the Fast Food industry losing its touch and getting better?

I offer Liz a piece and she agrees with me. This is good stuff.

The restaurant crowd is loud and boisterous and mostly obese, but I’m happy to sacrifice peace and quiet and unattractive scenery for food that tastes like my aunts used to make in the old days.

We’ve fogotten that just-past-churchtime is the busiest time of the week, and the Cracker Barrel staff is more focused on processing incoming customers than sharing pleasantries and anecdotes. I try to break the ice anyhow: “This looks like Baptist Happy Hour here,” I say to the pale waitress with a smile, hoping she’ll smile back at my little attempt at humor. She thinks I mean that this is a peaceful period, so she comes back with, “This is the worst time of the week, and I’m not even supposed to be working this shift.” She strains a smile and goes about handling several tables at once.

Later, she offers more insight into her life. “I’ve been working for three hours today for just $22 in tips. These people don’t know we (the waiters) are paid $2 an hour and have to earn the rest from customers.” Turns out she’s desperate for money. “I broke my tooth and it really hurts—it’ll cost me $500 to get it fixed.”

As we finish up, the harried waitress buses the next table, picking up a $3 tip from a $50 tab. She grumbles to the busboy, who is sympathetic and tries to help.

Birmingham is not known as a town of big tippers. We’ve not gotten the 20% memo that much of the rest of the nation has received. They must not know our zip code.

I’m thinking I’ll give her a 50% tip as a gesture of understanding. Liz adds another $5. We leave, knowing we haven’t solved the $500 dental bill problem, but we are slighly proud of the fact that we listened to the server, as opposed to haughtily making small demands as if we’re the upper crust and everybody else is the Help. I see people doing that a lot in restaurants these days.

“Two dollars an hour?” I quip to Liz as we head home. “Is this a great country or what?”

There oughtta be a law

 

 

 

 

Lesley

The 9 1/2 Most Profound Thoughts Anyone Ever Had

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The 9 1/2 Most Profound Thoughts Anyone Ever Had

1.  When eating a doughnut, meditate upon the significance of the hole, for without it, you’re merely munching on a patty of cooked dough.

2.  Always begin the day by awakening—otherwise the night will just keep extending itself.

3.  When applauding, you get a better sound by using both hands.

4.  You can stand alone in a forest and tell a joke, but you’ll never know whether it’s funny.

5.  It is better to pay the power bill than to curse the darkness.

6.  Tomorrow is the day after the first day of the rest of your life.

7.  Most things work fine till they break down.

8.  If you misplace your comparative analysis skills, you will become disallusioned.

9.  Try never to be more than one place at once.

10. The secret of life is like an ice floe. You never—wait, I don’t have that one ready yet

 

The Roar of the Motor, the Thrill of the Hills

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I’m off my rocker today, and I’d like to stay off it as long as I can. The ol’ rocking chair don’t got me yet, but sometimes I can feel it beckoning.

Looking in the mirror is kind of awkward to a geezer my age, since how I feel deep down inside doesn’t in any way match up with the image I see reflected back at me.

In memory ever re-booted, I’m still a teenager back in the village of Tuscaloosa, way back before you were even thought of.

Back then, the roads are two-lane blacktops, the terms fast food and convenience store don’t exist, a screened-in porch is the only air conditioning in most homes, movie theatres pour real butter on their popcorn, and any kind of wheels you can conjure up provide the best and cheapest thrills imaginable. My elders weave tales of their teen years—all about how the only way to get a reluctant date to put  her arms around you is to take her for a spin over Thrill Hills.

That gets my attention: How to get a pretty girl to hug you.

Back Then, Thrill Hills is the stretch of winding road between my home on 15th Street and the east side of town, near the veterans’ hospital. The hills are closely packed, and if you speed up while cresting one of them, you’ll begin a descent so fast that a near-weightless state occurs. The stomach turns, the roller coaster you momentarily pilot almost leaves the asphalt, and your companion screams, grabs hold of you and hangs on for dear life, whether or not she feels so inclined.

I think about Thrill Hills for years until, one day, I get a chance to propel myself and a date along the route. It works. If lucky, it might occasionally lead to some smooching, but that mostly is just in my mind, not hers.

Many decades later, I drive to Tuscaloosa to find the Thrill Hills stretch. It exists no more. The hills have been “developed” and smoothed down and multi-paved, so that there is no real leap of death. The Thrill is gone. What do teenagers do for cheap thrills nowadays? I don’t want to know, thank you.

One other hill in Tuscaloosa has disappeared, too. Let me describe it to you.

Back then, Downtown Tuscaloosa and the City of Northport are connected by a giant Erector Set of a metal bridge spanning the meandering Black Warrior River. Going over that bridge from T Town to Northport, you get ready to descend a long hill. These days, it, too, has been smoothed down, the bridge demolished, and a streamlined multi-laned overpass replaces it. But back then, making the return trek from river-level Northport back into the City is a real challenge.

Late at night, having finished my midnight shift as a teenaged announcer at WNPT radio on the north bank of the Black Warrior, I board my Cushman motor scooter and prepare to ascend that long, long hill. The Cushman is friction-taped together, and the motor barely runs. But, as my sole source of transportation, it is a thing of beauty. Only problem is, it takes about a mile to work up enough speed to get to the top of that hill. Luckily, it being the wee hours of the morning, there is little traffic, so I head north for a stretch, u-turn toward the bridge, and accelerate to the limits of the motor. I usually make it on the first try, but now and then, if forced to stop or slow down, the process has to be repeated.

So, most of my teenage thrills are free…the thrill of soaring over hills with a girl my age, the thrill of conquering the Northport hill several times a week, and the additional motor scooter thrill that only motorscooterists know about. Asking someone you just met to take a ride with you cuts through weeks of excruciation dating. Do you know a quicker way to get a girl to wrap herself around you, squeeze tight, and yell, “Faster! Faster!” ?

Well?

Nor do I

 

 

Far ago and long away…

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Far ago and long away, I dreamed a dream one day.

The time is far, far ago, but it is ever fresh in memory. Some of the best times of my life were spent in Peterson, a village between Tuscaloosa and Brookwood, a stripped-out mining town. In Peterson resided my maternal grandparents, as well as various aunts and uncles and cousins, and back then, some sixty years ago, all us kinfolk liked nothing better than to converge and reunite and party together on a Sunday afternoon.

Now this may not be you young’uns’ idea of partying, but it was everything we knew to do, in order to have a good time. The time is long away, but here’s what a McGee reunion felt like:

Dried butterbeans under a tree in Uncle Pat and Aunt Elizabeth McGee’s sideyard. No, we didn’t eat the butterbeans except one time, and once was enough. What my uncles did with the butterbeans was use them instead of chips, to sit on the ground and play poker. The summertime buggy and humid heat was barely noticed, because the Games and the Slow Roast were the thing. Two games went on simultaneously. The poker game—in which all the winner got was a bunch of dried beans—and the baseball game on the radio. You see, back then, nobody had portable radios, so the Big Game emanated from one of the old cars in the family. One uncle would pull his car near the Game and leave the door open so we could all hear the big plays, the excited crowd, the crisp snap of wood against hide, the terse shouts of the umpire.

The Slow Roast was right next to the game—big hunks of pork turning over an open-pit fire, smoking up the woods and forcing all humans who care about eating to salivate involuntarily. Cousin Patricia reports six decades later that, after we’ve eaten, Uncle Buddy reveals that it is goat meat—not pork.

This was Division of Labor stuff back then. The men were in charge of staying up all night, tending the cooking, biding their time with poker and baseball, and trying their best to set sedentary examples of good behavior for dozens of run-amok kids. The women did everything else.

Mind you, this was the post-economic-depression era when all men worked hard at hard-time jobs, when Sundays with family were their only respite, when for a few hours they could pretend to be hotshot gamblers and master chefs and wizened tribal chiefs.

Meanwhile, cousins and their playmates were free to roam wild in Uncle Pat’s woods, chase after and be chased by spiders and snakes, attract redbugs and ticks, laugh out loud and wrestle, play their own baseball game in the nearby cornfield, pretend to be feral Tarzans and Noble Savages and in general let out all that energy that had been pent up during the week.

The women would cook and wrangle kids and socialize and gossip and knit and darn and set tables and wash dishes and collect detritus that the men would later dispose of. Both men and women would share in the arduous task of making gallons of ice cream on the spot, emptying ice and salt into buckets while older kids took turns cranking and cranking and cranking, their only motivation being the sweet taste of fresh peaches absorbed into the creamiest ice cream you could ever imagine.

Everybody knew their responsibilities in those days, nobody hid from helping out, everyone came to each other’s rescue when a bruise appeared, all accidents were tended to in gentle good humor, all conflicts were mediated and peacefully settled, all passions channeled for the good of the one-day commune.

At the end of the long day, each family would sit wearily and happily in automobiles waiting while relatives leaned and said 45-minute lingering goodbyes to each other. Nobody wanted to leave the scene, everybody had to, and, regardless of how tired and spent and scraped and bloated and bugbit each of us was, we couldn’t help but think about the next reunion when we’d do it all again.

Yep, far ago and long away, I dreamed a dream, a dream that still seems true when I look at the results of those strong and handsome adult relatives who set such powerful examples for us kids. The truth is in watching those kids today, now elderly kinfolk with their own kids and kids of kids, each year once more holding a reunion and passing down the generations a rich appreciation of tribe and family and genetics and mutual support.

It’s all still there, and the next reunion is next year, and I’m salivating already