Monday, May 25, 2009

The Smell of Charcoal


Today is Memorial Day. In my family, it was always a weekend of family reunions, of groups of people coming down to Virginia and hanging out at my family's house for three days. The barbecue grills (my dad has two) seemed to be perpetually cooking *something* from Friday night through Monday afternoon. Hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, hot sausages, spareribs: all of these things went on the grill and came off of the grill, heaped on platters, placed on the dining room table as various family members waited in anticipation with paper plates ready, buns open. Around the platters sat bags of chips, containers of condiments, various bags of buns, piles of paper plates, napkins, and plastic forks. In the kitchen on the stove, pots of baked beans, collard greens, corn-on-the-cob in buttery water, sat simmering on the stove. In the refrigerator, there were large bowls of homemade potato salad, macaroni salad and the usual iceberg-lettuce-with-tomatoes-and cucumbers. For dessert, in the freezer sat boxes of popsicles – both the creamy kind and the colored sugar-water kind – and on the counters sat cupcakes and pies and the occasional sheet cake, usually to commemorate one of my many cousins' graduations from high school or college.


People filled the house. People were everywhere. You could barely find a quiet corner, people were in almost every room – a crowd of six older women in the hot kitchen, huddled around the kitchen table gossiping. A group of six to eight younger women sit and stand in the living room doing the same, but on different topics. A group of uncles in the basement – some watching some sort of sports or movies on TV, four sitting at a card table by the sliding glass doors leading into the yard, playing numerous games of pinochle, occasionally arguing and yelling. My dad would flit in and out of the yard, checking on the contents of the grills and conversing with the folks at the table. My mom would be wandering back and forth, making sure everyone was taken care of, and that no one needed anything else. My sisters would either be hanging out with one of the groups or outside, with still yet another group of young cousins, running around in the front yard. Older relatives would be in our bedrooms taking naps, leaving yet another part of the house off limits to hide from the noise and the hustle and bustle.


I was not fond of the groups and the noise, you see. It was always so overwhelming being around so many family members at once, all asking the same questions of me all the time – about school, about what I was doing – and me hating to answer because most of the time I really had nothing to say. Especially when I was younger, what could one say? Yes, school is fine. I'm doing OK. Until it wasn't, and then I didn't want to talk about it, or my job which was not very interesting and I hated to explain about. I would much rather have been in the corner with a book, using the few totally free holiday days that I had to not have to do something that I didn't want to do. It seemed every day I was doing things I didn't want to do, in places I didn't want to be, with people who didn't seem to understand why I didn't like any of the above. People may have thought that I thought I was too good to speak to anyone, but the real reason is that I didn't have anything to talk about. It was painful for me to talk about me. And talking to everyone else, hearing their tales of midnight bowling in the city, or trips to the mall for shopping, or hanging out at their houses with other cousins and friends . . . I couldn't relate to any of it. I was always broke and hated shopping. By the time I did start taking myself to museums, no one seemed interested and no one wanted to come along.


So the family cookouts became times where my feelings of alienation and misery were amplified. I dreaded them with a passion.


Fast forward 20 years to today. This Memorial Day I spent remembering the fallen soldiers of wars past and present and being thankful that my Army sister is back in the States, safe and sound. So much loss. So many young men and women who aren't here today and should be. That is the most important thing about today and all other problems are secondary.


I am married now and have don't have to go to those cookouts anymore. The long weekend is still a rare time when I can catch my breath and take a moment to not have to do the long lists of things that need always need to be done during the week. But today I also got nostalgic to have a grill of my own to throw some burgers and chicken on, to invite my friends over and have them fill my house with noise and conversation while I fill them with meats and potato salad and baked beans. But at this point in my life I still have no yard, no room for a grill, no room to have mobs of people in the small condo. I always dreamed of having my own people over, on my own terms, and yet it still feels like a dream . . . so close and yet so far away.


It seems so petty to write . . . but it is a part of me and where I am today and I need to be open to it, I guess.


I hope your weekends were happy ones . . .




NotAMeanGirl said...

I understand. OH, do I EVER understand. I'm 40. I have no home of my own. My family is falling apart. I have no friends close by. So, not the life I pictured or wanted. It's still a good life though. Just different than I envisioned.

mommanator said...

Great post of your remembering, sounded much like me. I don't like those big gatherings either although I love the family, give me one on one time anytime!
I am definately in a place now which I dont want folk asking "how are you doing"

Virginia Gal said...

What a lovely post and you should never apologize for being open. And I concur with Mommnator, sometimes I can't even answer "how are you doing?"

mommanator said...

now where are you!? You ARE out of school right!

Virginia Gal said...

Hope you are ok??

Nethead said...

Thanks for the Memories.

Reminded of the 'old' days.

Guess we don't have 'em like we use to.