Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fish and Grits

I love fish. I love grits. I have for as long as I can remember. And for as long as I can remember, I have been conceptually aware of the fact that Black Southern people tend to eat these two beloved foods of mine together as a meal of sorts, but I had never actually witnessed or experienced it. Mayyyyyybe once when I was a kid and too young to appreciate the diversity of food experiences I had in Georgia, but that's besides the point. To the best of my knowledge and understanding, yesterday morning I had fish, grits, and homemade biscuits for breakfast for the first time.

And I think fish and grits and homemade biscuits is a good place from which to start examining my relationship with my extended family. I know that they exist. I know things about them. I have encountered them in bits and pieces over the years without any strongly averse reactions. But generally, I have a tendency to be...ambivalent about my family most of the time, though that can shift to downright negative whenever my mom/brother/sister is getting on my nerves. But the truth of the matter is I just don't really KNOW my family. I have always lived with my mom and my younger [half-] brother and sister, but sometimes I still struggle to feel...intimate with them. And my extended family? I don't really feel like I have personal connections with them at all most of the time. 

Okay. Slight interruption for some backstory: my close family (i.e. mom, brother, sister, Nana, my mom's younger sister, and cousin) took a whirlwind roadtrip to Georgia this weekend because my mom's oldest sister was in the hospital having non-invasive but still pretty damn serious surgery. Despite being the oldest of the three girls my grandmother had and living in Savannah and not really seeing us but once every other year or so, she's somehow the sibling of my mother's to whom I feel the closest, and so I changed all of my plans about when I was coming home for break and what work I was doing when and the additional hours I wanted to make at work to get some extra holiday cash and came home early to make this gargantuan trek with my family. It was a 54-hour trip, in total, and we spent at least 37 hours of it on the road, but I think all of the adults involved would say it was worth it.

I'm just trying to figure out whether I count myself among that crowd. I'm really glad we got to be there to get my aunt back home and settled in after her operation. I'm sure that she knew she was loved, which is a wonderful feeling at any time. It was good to see my other uncle and aunt, who I hadn't seen in a good 7 years, and they fed us well. I got to see my (not-really-) great-grandmother, who had a stroke earlier this year but is doing incredibly well for 91, and I know that she was incredibly pleased to see us. Then we visited a paternal cousin of my mom's who evidently hadn't seen me since I was a toddler and didn't know my brother and sister at all, and then we trekked to the BACKWOODS to see my grandmother's sister, her family, and my actual great-grandmother, whom I hadn't seen since I was 9. After praising Jesus three times in the first five minutes of our visit and openly complaining about his son who recently married his fourth wife, an "ugly, look like she got rolled around in the mud cracker"--I kid you not--my great-uncle asked about school and he and my great aunt both separately said how proud they were of me, and maybe this is rude to say, but it all just felt like such a facade. 

I don't know my extended family. We are strangers to one another, strangers who were raised with enough common decency to be polite to one another when we meet, but strangers nonetheless. I was unnaturally quiet around my extended family this weekend, because I just have no idea who they expect me to be. But it has come to my attention that I never quite give "myself" the chance to be who they expect. I kind of give them no one instead, and that just isn't quite fair to anyone.  

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