The Family Reunion

TN Park This is actually a story that was originally in “The Splendor of Ordinary Days” but was ultimately edited out to help bring the book within publication length. Here, Luke Bradford narrates about having an evening dinner with Connie and Estelle and a discussion of the two sisters recent family reunion. Hope you like it!    – Jeff

Last Tuesday Connie and Estelle came over and cooked dinner for me. It was an anchoring event regarding my meals for the week. On the few occasions I had chosen to prepare something for myself it usually involved peanut butter. So a home cooked meal by the two culinary queens had all the promise of being a small slice of heaven.

Connie and Estelle’s family reunion had been the previous weekend. Having little to no family of my own I was always privately intrigued by such large gatherings and wondered what it felt like to be part of a larger clan, to live in a crowded house, bursting at the seams with siblings and ever constant drama.

As expected, I found them in the kitchen, talking nonstop above a clamor of banging pans and the sharp clatter of dishes. Rhett attentively followed them back and forth, aptly displaying his mastery of the pitiful, hungry look. After we sat down to the table, I turned to Connie.

“So, any interesting stories from the reunion?”

“Oh Lord, honey! Where do I to start?” She was in an unusually animated mood.

Apparently, for Connie and Estelle, the annual reunion was a grand affirmation of shared lives, of celebrating lifelong bonds. But it also served as a time for comparison and one-upmanship with the larger family. Foregoing their normal combative relationship, the two sisters were a unified fighting unit when it came to their cousins. From all appearances, team Pillow had walked away victorious and the two of them were eager to have a post game discussion.

Connie set the stage. “We had the reunion over at Falls Creek Falls State Park. It was up on the plateau and slightly cooler although by the way Estelle packed you’d have thought we were going on a voyage to Antarctica.”

“I’m cold natured,” Estelle injected sharply. “And I wanted to have plenty of sweater options, especially if cousin Melba’s brother, Tyrell came again this year.”

“Wouldn’t that make Tyrell a cousin also, Estelle?” I asked cautiously.

“She’s a cousin by marriage, so her brother’s fair game. From the moment I met him last year, I just got all tingly inside.”

“Humph,” responded Connie. “That tingly feeling was just common sense leaving your body.”

Estelle glanced at her sister disdainfully, as if she had made an unpleasant body noise.

“Anyway,” Connie continued, “altogether there were about ninety or so aunts, uncles, and cousins. We got there early and sat in the lobby just to take in the show.”

This puzzled me. “Connie, I’m not sure what you mean by that.” The two sisters exchanged bursting grins. Estelle spoke next.

“Well, for starters, you should have seen what cousin Ilene’s daughter, Charity was wearing. She was all dressed in Goth. Now tell me, what self-respecting black girl does that? So I made the mistake of asking her mother where was the rest of the Addams family. My, my, that woman can’t take a joke.”

“Well I feel for Ilene,” added Connie, musing over a spoonful of limas. “She said that her husband Earnest was drinking more than ever. I didn’t think that was possible unless he’s doing it in his sleep.”

“Oh, that reminds me,” Estelle blurted out. “Did you get a chance to talk with Auntie Ester? You know her husband, Grover passed away this past January.”

“I thought Ester and Grover were divorced,” responded Connie. “He hasn’t been to a reunion in years.”

“Apparently they were still married,” Estelle replied. “He had taken out a fifty thousand dollar life insurance policy on himself. So that’s how she showed up in that new Lincoln. She said she gave Grover a really fine burial and spent eight thousand dollars on a memorial stone in his memory.”

“Girl, did you say eight thousand dollars?” Connie asked incredulously. “How big a stone was it?”

Estelle snickered. “About two and a half carats.”

I had just bitten into a piece of fried chicken and almost spit it out.

“Luke, are you okay, sweetie?” Estelle inquired innocently.

I held up my hand for a brief moment. “Yes, yes, fine. By all means, please continue.”

“It was good to see Uncle James there. They say his eyesight has gotten really bad.”

“Humph,” Connie snorted. “He might be going blind but he still has a eye for the ladies. He wasn’t sitting by the pool all day Saturday just to work on his tan.”

I snickered. “So, any other amazing and exciting news from the reunion?”

Estelle assumed an indignant air. “Well, we got lost in the woods and my sister almost got us killed by an axe murderer.”

Connie rolled her eyes. “Oh, good heavens Estelle Ann, he ended up being a nice man and you know it.”

“He could have just as easily have been an axe murderer,” Estelle snapped in return.

“Whoa, whoa, ladies. Start this from the beginning.”

Estelle swallowed a bite of cornbread and spoke in a superior tone. “It’s fine Constance, go ahead and tell your version of it.”

Connie cut her eyes disapprovingly at her sister before beginning. “We have a first cousin who goes by the name of Ona Pearl and bless her heart, from the day she was born she took a bad whooping with the ugly stick. But we love her and she loves nature.” Connie paused a moment and then added under her breath, “despite what it did to her.” She drank a quick sip of tea.

“Anyway, she wanted us to go with her to hike up and see the falls, telling us it was an easy walk. Well, Lord have mercy I don’t know how we got off on the wrong trail but we did. So there we were, three good sized middle-aged black women, all short of breath with sweaty faces and the three of us together don’t have the sense of direction the good Lord gave a lint ball.”

“So, what happened?”

“Fortunately, this nice man came walking up the trail.”

“Nice my foot,” blurted Estelle. “He was scary looking. He was a skinny white guy with a long gray beard and those big bushy mad scientist eyebrows. He gave me the willies.”

Connie ignored her sister. “Anyway, we told him we were lost. He said he knew the area well and that his car was parked just up the hill. He kindly offered to give us a ride. So we start to climb and the whole time Nancy Drew here gives him the third degree, asking him one embarrassing question after another.”

“Humph,” said Estelle. “All I did was ask him if he was in the habit of keeping an axe in his car since he spent so much time in the woods.”

“And if he really was an axe murderer do you think he would have told us the truth?” Connie retorted.

“I was watching his eyes,” Estelle said defiantly. “I’d know if he was lying.”

Again Connie shook her head. “Well, we climbed and we climbed and we climbed. I was expecting any minute to see the home of the Dalai Lama. I honestly thought I was going to die and for a while there it almost seemed like a good idea. When we finally reached the top, beside the trail was a small shelter with a picnic table. I sat down to catch my breath and the man said he had to go move some things around in his car. Then Estelle starts whispering frantically, ‘You watch, you watch, he’s about to pull an axe out. We’re all dead, I tell you, we’re all dead.’”

By this point in the story Connie was beside herself with laughter. It was contagious. Estelle and I were also bursting at the seams. “So what finally happened?” I inquired.

“I’ll tell you what finally happened,” said Connie. “I looked at Estelle and said honey, I am so exhausted right now that if he does pull an axe out of that trunk, then I’m going to just lay my head on that stump over there and tell him he can just have at it.”

We all laughed hard, loud, and long.

Finally, Estelle spoke in a conciliatory voice. “Turns out he did give us a ride back to the lodge. And Lord don’t you know it, when he dropped us off, who would be standing there but Ava Nell.”

Connie crossed her arms and with a lifted chin, snorted a triumphant “Humph. I’ll give her that brief moment of glory. Cause us two little piggys got to laugh all the way home for all the crow she had to eat this weekend.” The sisters exchanged devious, happy grins.

“Okay, guys. Who’s Ava Nell?”

Connie answered. “We call her the evil cousin.”

“Very evil cousin,” Estelle immediately echoed.

“For some reason she’s always put on airs,” Connie added. “That girl was born on third base and thought she hit a triple.”

“So what happened with her?”

Connie leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table. There was a high tone of satisfaction in her voice. “Ava Nell’s got three children, a boy and two girls. Her son, Thomas is the oldest and he’d be about twenty-seven by now. He’s a real up and coming lawyer in Nashville. And I have to tell you, Thomas is one of the most handsomest men you’ll ever meet, black or white.”

“Umm hmm,” Estelle added emphatically. “We’re talking Denzel kind of handsome.”

“And Ava Nell has lorded it over everybody all these years about how one day she was going to have the most beautiful little black grandbabies. Well, Thomas pulled a little surprise on her and ran off and got married.”

“What, did he go to Vegas?”

“No,” Connie said. “Apparently he ran off to Disneyworld, because he married Snow White.”

Estelle held up both of her hands in a gesture of pure elation. “Prettiest little blonde girl you’ve ever seen. And to make it all better, she had her own little dwarf with her.”

“What do you mean?”

“She’s a lawyer, like Thomas,” responded Connie. “Apparently they work for the same law firm. She has a little four-year old boy from a previous marriage. Cutest little tow headed fellow in the whole wide world and sweet, sweet, sweet as can be.”

“There they were,” giggled Estelle. “Thomas was black, his wife was white, and every time that little fellow called Thomas daddy, Ava Nell was red.”

The two sisters laughed robustly, reveling in an air of great satisfaction. Yet, not all of it smacked of rivalry. As the conversation continued, they also spoke affectionately of beloved relatives, of shared victories and disappointments, of the hopes and struggles of their larger family.

I listened with great wonder and, although I was on the sidelines, it was a delight to live vicariously for the moment, immersing myself into this unfamiliar ocean of lifelong bonds and connection. My yesteryears had been spent in the shallow end, always protective, always cautious, always fearful to plunge in to the deeper water and the unpredictable waves. But Connie and Estelle’s talk of so many people, so many names, so many lives with which they had history, fascinated me. It spoke of a richness and a pageantry to life that I had never known.

I had spent my entire adult life wanting to be a doctor. But Watervalley had slowly taught me that all I really wanted was to belong.


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