In the South, family is life. Who you are related to and how is an important right of passage that all Southerners must go through every time they are introduced to a random passing stranger. Usually the conversation goes something like this:
Friend: Mrs. Magoo, this is my friend Lauren.
Mrs. Magoo: So nice to meet you, Lauren. Aren’t you the prettiest thing?
Me: Thanks, Mrs. Magoo. It’s nice to meet you too.
Mrs. Magoo: Now, are you from around here? Do I know your mom and dad?
(To be followed by a liturgy of my family history until we establish a connection, or find that we are indeed strangers in this world.)
The latter rarely happens in a small town. Especially when you have seven uncles, one aunt and approximately 20 cousins on one side of the family, and the other side features a patriarch who built many of the houses in town. So we often move on to, “Oh, you look just like your mother did when I knew her back in 1970-something when we were working at the library together…” You get used to this, and then you proceed to do it to everyone you meet, and tradition of family is carried through into Southern eternity (which, by the way, is a lot longer than average eternity.) This is not a bad thing. It’s just very interesting to observe.
Anyway, when I announced that I was moving to California (almost an unheard of practice in Lower Alabama,) member’s of my father’s side of the family began to say things along the lines of, “Oh, your second and third cousins live out in California,” as if I was going to run into them on US-101 during a Sunday drive. I simply smiled and nodded, as if I would really ever meet this long-lost branch of my family (my granny’s brothers’ and sisters’ children, to get specific…all nine of them.)
Well folks, I’m here to tell you that miracles do happen. I’m visiting some of said long-lost relatives this weekend. No, I didn’t happen across them at the grocery store; my mom keeps in touch with one of cousins she particularly likes, and that sweet lady Claudia told my mom that she would like to meet me. So I got the number from my mom, called up Claudia, and planned a visit to Southern California. Strangely enough, it was my granny’s spirit of adventure that was passed on to me through the gene pool that led me to do something so unorthodox. Now I’m surrounded by a great aunt, second and third cousins, and they all eerily give off the same Garner family traits that I see in my dad and my uncles, my cousins, my brother…and me. And even though they are four hours away, there’s a comforting feeling knowing that within driving range are a batch of people that act like me, think like me and love me.
Maybe there’s something to this “Who’s your family?” business after all.