I still remember the trip down, what would have taken an adult less than a day ending up four with three kids. But we had fun with it, stopping at a water park and the famous Luray Caverns, staying at motels and visiting chain diners along the way. When we reached the blue-gray hills of Tennessee, we had all the jittery energy of three kids cooped up for days in a car in which there was no space for wrestling and I was perennially getting squashed by my brothers by virtue of being the youngest, smallest, and only girl.
As we piled out of the car and left our parents to sort luggage, my aunt and uncle came out of their two-bedroom ranch to greet us. It was our first time meeting, and, for Uncle Arlis, our only time. He had met my aunt in the U.S. some years ago, and all I knew about him was he was an older vet, and, according to my mom, “a very nice man.” They had lived for most of my aunt’s years in the U.S. in this remote neck of the valley – where flint rocks ran plentiful and bushy peach trees lined the backyard and gardens – and seemed to have achieved some peace in what must have been two challenging lives.
My aunt smiled at us and laid out cots for me and my brothers in the middle of the cramped living area. For the next few days we did nothing but run like loose cannons around the gray hills and valleys, racing each other down dirt paths in the light Tennessee rain, trying and failing to start fires using flint and nothing else (more my brothers’ mission than mine). I spent time trying to build rapport with my aunt – at one point writing a long epistle about our journey, describing the water slides at the park and asking my dad how to spell both stalagmite and stalactite so I could regale her with a detailed account of our adventures. I proceeded to read aloud what I’d written, gesticulating wildly and acting out parts of it. My aunt watched me closely, smiling and nodding throughout my 6 year old’s rendition – but even now I’m not sure how much she understood and how much she had to fake.
Our last day came quickly, and soon we were standing under a cloudy sky, waving vigorous goodbyes as we got ready for the much longer-seeming journey back home. As we pulled out of the driveway, our aunt ran to the car and handed me a jar of peach jam – the delicious home-made preserves we had slathered over pancakes and toast throughout the week. She didn’t say anything, of course, and couldn’t have heard anything I said back, but my grateful look as we drove off seemed to transgress the boundaries of sound, if the tears in her eyes showed anything.
That was our first and only time in Tennessee, and the first and only time I’ve seen my aunt. Twenty six years later, the memories are there, triggered by the strident sweetness of peaches and any darkly gray stones, pulling me to a plane where I can grasp my aunt’s hand and reach her understanding.
This post has been shared at Phoenix Helix’s Paleo-AIP Roundtable.