What do families and Kudzu have in common?
In the South, families stick together. In my family that includes my 5th cousin once removed and all generations capable of gathering. Like kudzu, we are all connected at the roots. If there are people reading this who ask, “What is kudzu?” You are not from the South!
Kudzu is an invasive green leafy vine. If you’ve ever driven through the South, you’ve seen it on the roadside. It grows over everything, trees, bushes, cars, buildings, and fence posts. That’s why we never let our children stand still, it would grow right over a them! We are told Kudzu can grow as much as a foot a day and one plant can stretch for miles. That’s much like the love in my family, it grows with each tradition and it stretches for generations. In the South, we are all part of one big loving culture, and we are all connected in some way. Our roots run deep and spread to include extended family. Like Kudzu, we hug and hold on tightly.
There’s Something Else
Kudzu is not a Southern plant, not a native to these parts. It was brought from Japan and planted throughout the South as a means of erosion control on our hills and bluffs. Like people before and after, Kudzu fell in love with the South and decided put down roots and stay around a while. I can’t argue with that logic. Families are like this Japanese ground cover useful at times and can also be very annoying.
Unlike Kudzu We move slowly in the South, this does not mean that we are slow! We have learned to treasure every moment, especially those summertime moments. We can sit on the porch all afternoon and guess the color of the next truck that comes over the hill. If you guess right, you win. You don’t win anything, you just win. Around here, you win if you can spend a lazy afternoon with family and friends on the porch instead of in the field working.
Sunday Memories When I was young, there was nothing like a Sunday in the South. That was the day of rest, we took a break from field work. Going to my grandma’s house for dinner meant I shared the afternoon with my cousins. Memories were made on summer nights as we sat on grandma’s porch making homemade ice cream, spending the afternoon swinging on a grapevine and dropping in the swimming hole, and late nights lying on a blanket stargazing. Did I mention, sneaking in the neighbor's garden to break open a ripened watermelon? (Not me, that was Ben, the cousin who always got us in trouble!) I can remember my first horseback ride without a saddle and feeling of the warm dust between my toes while walking barefoot on the dirt road? When I close my eyes, I can still see the tent made out of my grandma's quilt. And in the stillness of the night, I can hear the sound of crickets and bull frogs. Believe me, I felt much older than twelve the day I drove the straight shift down that narrow old dirt road.
Memories were created in the wintertime, as well. I spent a lot of time waiting for the occasional snow to make snow cream and slide down the hill on the homemade sled. When the weather was cold and the creek froze, my cousins and I spent hours sliding on the small frozen stream. (We called it skating but we had no skates.) Before bedtime, we stood in front of the fireplace and burned on one side while freezing on the other side. When we felt that we were sufficiently baked, we ran upstairs to the unheated bedroom. The girl cousins slept in the same bed; it was too cold to sleep alone. I couldn’t turn over once I was in bed because of the number of quilts on the bed. What wonderful memories!
Family Traditions From the tobacco patch to the parties at the big house, we are all family. Southerners know where people came from, how they got here, where they live, who they married (or should have married) and we know most of their relatives (even the ones they try to forget). We know where their ancestors are buried and we’ve heard all the stories that should not be repeated. (Like the stories of the preacher who had two families.) We eat dinner as a family, we pray before we eat, and we still address our elders with “yes, ma’am” and “yes, sir”. We love any game that involves a little friendly competition. (And, sometime not so friendly but we are still family.) We don’t know why but we band together and we “carry on” traditions. Whatever the reason, keeping family traditions alive is important to us?
Elbows Off the Table and Pass to the Left Dinner might not always be at my grandma’s house, it might be at my aunt’s or my great grandma’s. (Yes, I’m lucky, I can remember my great grandmother’s stories about riding a horse to school when she was teaching at a one room school in Putnam County. But, that's a story for another day.) The point is, every Sunday after church the extended family and anyone who had no other place to go, gathered at the dinner table. Cornbread, chicken and dumpling, and cole slaw was one of my favorites. Fried chicken, hot biscuits, mashed potatoes, and green beans ranked pretty high on the list, especially if in included “sweet milk” gravy. The menu changed based on the season, but the feelings of belonging, the laughter, and the practical jokes never changed. Even with a table full of people, I could hear my Aunt Vallie reminding us, “Elbows off the table, pass to the left, napkin in your lap,” and more unsolicited advice. My family was not short on unsolicited advice.
As I write this, I smile remembering those family gatherings. Today, I know it was never about the food but the support and love of family and friends, that sense of belonging. Before my children became grandparents and established their own family traditions, we gathered at my house for Sunday dinner. My hope is that I have passed down to my children and grandchildren this simple celebration of family gatherings. The menu and the cooking procedures look differently. (Now, it is grilled chicken breast and cooking with olive oil instead of lard.) I hope and pray, that love and appreciation for each other, the value of belonging, and repeating family traditions is my legacy as a Southern mama, grandma, and great grandma.
Please don’t tell my children! If you like to conduct family research and hear family stories. Let me remind you, as you research family documents, you may find stories that you could live without knowing. In my case, I found something that I preferred my children not know. In one of the stories of the Huff Family, a member was described, as “sharp of tongue”. I think of that as being someone who made negative comments. But, in the context, it was used; it was referred to as “quick witted”. That would be a fun thing to share but the next lines changed my mind about sharing. “The Huff’s were known to be cheeky, a bit of a smart-aleck, always ready with a comeback.” (I changed the aleck, they used another “a” word.) Please don’t tell my children, I can hear them now, “That is a Huff characteristic that is alive and well, we live with that.” In fact, I shared this story with a friend from Granville and he very kindly with a chuckle said. “No comment”.
Every family has characteristics and traditions that make them unique. Would you please share your family stories with us. You may share your unique characteristics and embarrassing traditions; we promise not to tell your children.
Historic Granville open Wednesday-Friday 11AM-3PM and Saturday 11AM-5PM.
Attend the Genealogy Festival on April 9 in Historic Granville to hear family stories, learn to conduct family research, and enjoy making connections. You may even experience a closeness like kudu. More information is available at www.granvilletn.com.
“I’ve learned to rely on the strength I inherited from those who came before me...I go forth alone and stand as ten thousand.” Oprah Winfrey