I think most of my six regular readers know that I make an annual trek to Arkansas to check out my holdings in the family rice farm. This event has become a family excursion which includes some close and some not-so-close kin, a great deal of discussion about crops and farming-related activities, huge amounts of food, and a popular pursuit we could call “Gotcha!” if we were naming such things. That event is when we cousins tell a story that we all swore back in our younger days we would never ever tell.
There were 17 of us. Two have died. Many of the rest of us are in touch mostly by social media and have not seen one another in years. Our grandfather created a wonderful legacy for his six children with his vast acreage of rice and beans. We grandchildren now are becoming owners of our parents’ shares in the farm and are getting together annually after decades of sporadic contact.
There still are some who do not participate for various reasons, but the meeting last week made me realize that while many of us have changed a great deal, some seem to have changed very little. We have about 50 years of shared family experiences and memories of time spent together during the summer and holidays at our grandparents’ house. We are sort of like some street gang. We know all the parts, we paid our membership dues long ago, and we keep it all close – except for when we don’t! It seems this past week was the get-together when everyone decided to share the really dark stories.
I could hardly believe it. My brother smuggled illegal fireworks from Arkansas to our home in Illinois by pulling out the ashtray in the backseat arm rest of my parents’ 1958 Chevrolet Biscayne and stuffing them in the space below. Meanwhile, an Army-brat cousin was headed back to California with his parents and brother in a Volkswagen bug and his fireworks were under one of the back seats. I think many of these stories finally came to light not only because we’ve only been together a couple of times in the past few years, but because there are no parents left to dispense the proper punishment.
We also had a discussion of youthful expletives and how the various aunts took care of the exhibition of such casual use of filthy language. You should know that my mother was one of five girls and they had one brother. During our growing up years our Uncle Burrell was every kid’s favorite guy, but the aunts were formidable and they ruled. The oldest aunt was my mother and she was a tough one! You should also know that the forbidden words we were using in those days were “dang,” “shut up,” and “crap.”
However, we still managed to get away with what we thought was bad behavior. Fireworks were legal in Arkansas year around and we bought them by the hundreds and blew up everything in sight. We talked at the aunts behind their backs – quietly – thinking we were getting away with something. We had Monopoly marathons for hours late at night, every night. Our grandparents and cousins all had party-line telephone service and when the phone rang and rang for some unknown family, we would run to lift the receiver and then hang up – just because we could. We hunted the plowed farm ground for arrowheads, poked around the river and shivered at the sight of water moccasins. We shot sparrows nesting in the bins and barns. We went on the obligatory snipe hunt plotted by the country kids. Even though we were the Yankee cousins, we paid our dues and we got to be a part of real rural life. It was great!
Our wild adventures in the cousin gang are great memories. I have enjoyed going back to Arkansas for the family farm meetings, taking my own children. I am sure our stories pale in comparison to some The Daughters could tell of their growing-up years. However, we remember our behavior as outrageous and rowdy enough that we did not want our parents to know and the stories remained under wraps for years. And, dang, it was fun sharing them again!