Often, I was the one who stayed an hour or so with Grandma so that Dad could bathe, eat dinner, or pay bills. I had one job: Make sure Grandma did not leave the house. How ironic it was that going home to her meant leaving the house that she and my grandfather built forty years before. Her mind was trapped in a much earlier time.The road that she traveled to get home was a rutted dirt road populated by horses and buggies and the occasional car that moved aside whenever the driver saw someone walking along the road. She did not recognize that it was seventy years later; by now the road was a major U.S. highway, well-traveled by cars and tractor-trailers that would not see her walking in the middle of the road until it was too late.
Tag Archives: family
Mom taught me to love saffron, cilantro, bread fruit. Taught me to cook, taught me only to barely ever follow a recipe, should instinct or lack of ingredients dictate otherwise. And she has passed on to me this love of food and cooking, this adventure into the world of the senses.
If Dad longed for anything, though, it was Italy. He didn’t share much with us, however. His mother died of cancer while he was in college. Childhood memories were hard. And, though his dad remarried, his mother wasn’t there to pass-on family history, to tell us stories of his childhood. When the family gathered, however, siblings would reminisce. Most had to do with “the family mission,” like how he, his siblings, and his cousins torched a roadside shrine in some northern Italian village, thinking they were advancing the cause of Christ.
I don’t fault Pat her love of country. We’ve all been taught to love our homeland. And, when asked, “Where are you from?,” most of us answer without hesitation. Some of us, though, simply don’t know how to respond because we are truly from nowhere.
“When I went to college in South Carolina, I sometimes babysat for a young family. The Daddy went to Episcopal High School, a boarding school in Virginia, and coincidentally was roommates with my cousin Will Carter. He told me about his trip to Lewisburg once, his first to West Virginia, with Will to meet his family. He remembers driving into a beautiful piece of property, open and lovely in the spring green, and as they pulled in closer to the Prichard house, two young men, not much older than he and Will, were standing naked in the field playing their stringed instruments.”
“Chaos is not uncommon in a big family. During a televised football game at one of the many Thanksgiving holidays we spent at Smithover, my older brother surprised us all during the half time show. He pulled out his shotgun (safely, but without warning) and struck a buck from our back deck, out of nowhere. The younger kids jumped for joy. Once the gun was locked away, they ran to inspect the kill. It was not a customary family event. One of my cousins left with her young child and did not return on that trip. But she did eventually return. Your family can really turn you off…but it always amazes me how you come back home for the holidays. That is the beauty of family. They say you can’t pick your family….but I sure would pick mine if I had the chance.”
“In the 1920’s, my great grandmother Elizabeth Dana Smith, or “Grandma Dana,” inherited what had been the Lipps Family Farm, about two hundred acres southeast of what is now downtown Lewisburg. It eventually became the summer stomping ground for her sixteen grandchildren known as the “sweet sixteen” cousins, one of whom is my dad. They named the property Smithover.”
“Nobody had been up the road for many months, probably since summer time, so the ruts grooved by any bad weather were deep. As we descended into the Rain Forest, the driver had to make sharp left and right juts, avoiding the big pits in the dirt road. I remember flinging right and left off the back of the Jeep as the driver jigged and jagged along the path. Sometimes we had to actually stop and fill in the ruts with brush and stones in order to create a passable road. Sometimes we would stop and pick blackberries on the way in!”
“On my way down the passage I am caught, as I always have been, mid-stride, captivated. A tall oak curio cabinet stands against the wall, honey-colored wood intricately carved, glass-front doors revealing shelves piled with a wonderment of shells. There is a collection of hundreds, some carefully labeled with a Latin name on a tiny strip of paper, others stacked to overlapping. Conch shells, purple striped urchins, varicolored mussel shells spread like wings. Some are familiar, like an entire shelf of pale lettered olives, the South Carolina state shell, sometimes found on the island by the sharp-eyed and lucky. Others are messengers from exotic shores: giant conchs with porcelain-smooth pink centers, a curving cream-and brown nautilus, and tiny wentels spiked and whorled. My mind is pulled past my horizon to another shore, where the life of these creatures begins, the thousands of watery miles of life and death between, the wave that carries them, the hand that carries them here.
I could spend hours here, gazing, but I move on.”
“We invaded the house like the Viking horde. The cars and boats disgorged their load armful by armful. We children ran up and down the stairs and in and out of each room, making sure that the previous year had not altered a thing and each stick of furniture and knickknack was intact. We offered loud reports of anything new: “Mama! They got an os-illating fan!!” Fortunately, the Simons’ didn’t believe in change. Every year, every plastic lobster, every collection of seashells, every deck of cards remained in its proper place, having somehow survived our summer conquest. The house fit us all like a favorite pair of jeans, broken-in just right. Within the hour we had each found our proper places.”