Oh there been times that I thought, I couldn’t last for long

But now I think I’m able to carry on

It’s been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change gonna come

Sam Cooke, ‘A Change is Gonna Come’

I’ve expressed a slight dread to those close to me that I’ll wake up one day to children who have no appreciation of the lives of their grandparents.  As expressed in The Godfather and other films, is the price of mainstream ambition the loss of your cultural roots?  The dark side of the American dream if you will.  Some of my earliest memories are of making the drive down 71 South, through towns where Confederate flags filled the streets, to get to the hometowns of each of my parents.

My father came from a small town in Northern Louisiana.  And I mean small; I’m still not sure if the town has its own high school.  My father is the middle child of three brothers; as best as I can tell, he was the ‘quiet one.’  Spending time in my father’s hometown, I would hear the stories of how he and my uncles would pick pecans at the Big House up the road from where they grew up.  (Lord knows what else hung from those trees over the years).  I can go there now and still see every star in the sky at night.  In Kansas this is what would be considered a ‘farming’ community: a lot of pickup trucks, all used for practical purposes.  In movie terms, I’m reminded of the setting of ‘Hud’ in more ways than one.  I have vague memories of my paternal grandparents; what sticks out in my mind was seeing ‘Big Mama’, my great-grandmother.  She lived in a three bedroom space with the sister of my grandmother for many years.  Even in her most advanced state, she always recognized my father (and myself as a boy).  I’ve never asked him about it directly, but I definitely sense she played a major role in my father’s life growing up.  Absent or present, my father is definitely the man who has the most influence on my life.  He’s taught me a lot over the years, but as I think of these earliest memories, I recognize how some of the most important things he passed on to me, in particular my compassion, were instilled in me at that early stage of life before you recognize you’re being ‘taught’ anything.

My mother came from a more traditional small town, even further south than my father.  In this day and age you rarely hear of families this big, but my mother was one of ten children.  My memories of my family on the maternal side are much more vivid; I can recall specific moments with both of my grandparents on that side.  With a such a large number of children and grandchildren, their home became the ‘ground zero’ for every pleasant and unpleasant reunion growing up.  We’d have these huge crawfish boils growing up; crawfish, half potatoes, corn on the cob thrown in a huge pot and seasoned, heated over a giant flame.  Our uncles would be drinking tall cans of Coors, our aunts would be in the kitchen talking and making pecan candy for dessert; as kids we’d be sucking on sugar cane stalks and racing snails in the carport.  In the evening if we were still hungry, my cousins and I would walk to the Canal Street Market and buy pork cracklins.  I’d come back to the North with ridiculous mosquito bites, but other than that, it was a great period for me.

Of course, none of us make it through life without ever going through something.   My time was coming.