As I made the trip home to Louisiana this past weekend, I was immersed in a sea of memories and tiny moments that anchor me to that geographical location no matter how far away I roam. Like the mighty Mississippi that undulates and flows from Natchez to New Orleans, they washed over me in muddy waves with every car ride, conversation, hug and goodbye.
The road that runs in front of Granny and Gramps' house saw me get behind the wheel of a car for the first time. As we made the last turn after the long drive from Texas, I can still remember the knot of excitement in my stomach as Mama pulled over and let me drive the remaining 1/2 mile to their house. I was beaming from ear to ear the entire time as I painstakingly drove down the shaded road, hands gripping the wheel and listening to Mama's instructions. As I bounded out of the car with typical 15 year old enthusiasm, I couldn't wait to tell them that I had driven!
The open field beside Granny Traylor's house used to be a huge garden that was tended by my great-grandfather. There was sugar cane in one corner, and Papa would have a pile of the hard sticks on the back carport ready to be cut open and chewed until the sweet goodness was a pulp. He always had a hug ready, and I remember how hard they were, as though he was going to squeeze me to death. The smell of Zippo lighters still remind me of him to this day, and he's been gone for 23 years now.
The taste of Hi-Ho BBQ (which isn't really BBQ at all), and eating them as a child with all six double-first cousins sitting on the step in Granny's kitchen. Sauce dripping down grimy hands and arms and a cold Barq's root beer beside each one of us. Enjoying the taste of our lunch, but anticipating the rest of the afternoon that we would spend climbing the live oak and magnolia trees. There was one massive oak we named the animal tree because it had one of those impossibly low branches that almost touched the ground and we would ride it like a horse. Well, until the freakishly large orange stinging caterpillars sent us screaming in fear to some other mischief.
Strawberry season in the spring, with the seemingly limitless supply of berries bought by the flat and eaten in a myriad of ways: plain, with sugar, over ice cream, made into jam, over buttermilk cake and sliced and put up in the freezer for the rest of the year. All those little green plastic baskets in which the berries were packed that we used to make craft projects with yarn and whatever else we could find. Before the season was over, Granny would have stacks and stacks of those baskets and be completely unwilling to throw them away much like the mayonnaise jars and Cool Whip containers.
The smell of lunch cooking in Granny's kitchen, and the comfortable conversation around the dinner table. The faces are older now and more careworn, but they are the faces of the people who love me and who are loved in return. My past, present and future all in one room sharing a meal, just like the hundreds of meals shared before. There is something timeless about the ritual of breaking bread with family and the playful banter learned from years of knowing, loving and trusting one another. The inside jokes that no one else would get or even care about. The instinctive way that we serve one another and remember who likes which food and who has an aversion to another.
Then making the trip back home on I-10 and realizing that it's a road that will not be used much in the coming years. Trevor and I have both been traveling that stretch of interstate since childhood, leading us to and from our families for as long as we can remember. As we slowed to make our exit, we discussed the probability that we would not need I-10 to get to the ones we love anymore. We'll be coming from the north from now on, and although we may make the occasional drive to Louisiana from Texas in a combined trip to see his parents and mine, it will be the exception and not the rule.
But even with the particularly sharp nostalgia I experienced this trip, there was an intermingled feeling of excitement about our move. The knowledge that my children have already begun to make memories that will sustain them their entire lives gives me a feeling of contentment. Memories of cousins and grandparents...memories of the places I love...memories of their own. I-10 will not be the familiar path home, but they will have their own paths and they will always lead them back to us.