Conversations with Kin
by Lauren Gann
I am sitting across from my 96-year-old Grandmother Alice on my Uncle John’s white, screened-in back porch in Douglasville, Georgia. The smell of casseroles lingered onto the porch—green bean casserole, squash casserole, broccoli and cheese casserole—everyone brought casseroles to my family get-togethers. My Grandmother Alice sat, sipping on her tea and melted ice, holding her cup with her white napkin fixed around the cup like paper-mache’. Her old hand with thick fingers wrapped around the cup like deformed tree vines. The fans on the porch cooled the air, but we both were sweating in the humidity.
Even at 96, my grandmother still had thick, natural black hair—all of her girlfriends from church swore on their bibles that she dyed her hair, but she didn’t, “Good genes,” she’d giggle and run her hand through her dark, thick mane. Today she was wearing a striped cotton shirt that flowed loosely over her wrinkled body; her skin was a healthy olive covered by a light makeup that smelt like baby powder, soap, and a floral perfume. She had a large, Greek nose that held her thin, silver rimmed glasses to bright blue eyes.
We were sitting in flowered-cushioned wicker chairs, hiding out from our loud family inside eating. She was telling me the one of the last stories I’d hear from her after today.
It was the story from the Great Depression about when her mother let her have a party in the sitting room of her house back in Tallapoosa, Georgia and she “cut a rug in the carpet” with her brother’s friends. It was one of her favorite stories to tell. She still lived in that white house in Tallapoosa, the same house her parents raised her in. The same old house with pink antique furniture and an oak wood curio she kept filled with different ringing bells. She couldn’t remember any recent stories to tell me, but she could tell me every story from when she was born until she buried her late husband, Bud.
“Mother let us push the furniture back against the walls,” she said as she wiped her brow with her napkin and leaned in close to tell me the story with a smirk, grabbing my hand as if we were school girls, as if it were a secret her mother let her do such an inappropriate thing.
“Brother would get mad if I tried to dance with his friends,” and said, sitting back and smiling to herself, taking another bite of her squash casserole, “but some of those boys were mighty cute and would even walk me home from school.” She winked at me after she said the part about the boys.
She had just taken another bite and started looking curiously at me, her eyes still smiling but her eyeballs wandered from my thin eyebrows to my small hands as she chewed.
“Now who are you again?” she asked me, interrupting the story right before the part where her daddy came in and told everyone it was getting late. She couldn’t remember me, or my three siblings, but her favorite grandson, Jay, my daddy, she could remember.
“I’m Jay’s daughter, Lauren,” I told her, saying “Jay” real southern sounding, stretching out the “A” sound so she could understand me. She’d always scold me if I spoke fast “like a yankee.”
“Jay?” she asked, laughing hysterically back in her chair, covering her full mouth with her napkin.
“Yes, you remember Jay, right?” I smiled, knowing she did. They talked on the phone every night. If he didn’t call her on schedule, she’d call our house just to hang up on him when he answered for not calling her when she wanted.
“Oh yes! Of course I know who Jay is! It’s just funny you said you’re his daughter!”
“And why is that?” I smiled, shaking my head at her for being silly.
“Because Jay is only twenty years old! He doesn’t have kids!” she said so assured, but still tickled at the idea that he had an eighteen-year-old daughter like me.
“I know you’re kin though,” she said smiling, “you look like Jay though,” she said, “You’re definitely an Owen.”
“So I’ve heard,” I laughed back, smiling at her face that didn’t look worried at all; she couldn’t remember who I was, but she knew who I wasn’t—her 46 year old grandson’s daughter.
This was the first time I was a stranger to Grandmother Alice, but she was the type of person who would talk to a stranger in the supermarket about everything in their buggy, so she wasn’t worried about it.
“Now some of these people here, they’re not kin,” she said, scoping the yard where my cousins were tossing around a ball.
“Who is that young man?” she asked, pointing to my Aunt Sarah’s husband Chris. “He’s isn’t kin, I can tell.”
“That’s Sarah Kay’s husband, Chris” I answered, stretching the “A” sound in Kay again to keep from “soundin’ like a yankee.” His small eyes and pale skin gave him away. Plus, he was a yankee—he was from Florida. Grandmother Alice could spot Yankees better than Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
She just nodded at herself for getting it right and kept looking at him and the others in the yard.
“I can recognize our kin,” she said grabbing my hand, “because we’re the good lookin’ ones!” she winked at me, then sat back satisfied with the crowd in the yard and started to tell me another story about when she was a young girl.
Lauren Gann is a recent graduate of Georgia Southern University, with a B.A. in Political Science and a Minor in Writing and Linguistics. You can reach Gann at firstname.lastname@example.org.