Not the Menthols!

My life has been kind of small and closed in lately, what with the kids being sick and then me getting it, too. As satisfying as it would be for me personally to share all the details with you, I thought I’d take you for a stroll down Memory Lane this evening instead. After all, Dad always said

Ain’t nobody likes an organ recital.

Fraught with meaning, that, like a lot of what Dad used to say. I mean the stuff that wasn’t complete and total hogwash.

So here, I’ll set the scene.

The year is about 1987. I’m nine or ten. We (my mom, dad, sister, brother, and I) ride down to Blue Ridge, GA to a family reunion at my Aunt J’s house. We meet my Dad’s sister and her daughter there.

I’ve never been to a family reunion on my Dad’s side, and I was about to learn why. My mom was trying to protect us from Them. “Them” were the only group of people I’ve ever seen drink beer, smoke cigarettes, and play softball at the same time. (I mean, even in college the kids stuck to darts or pool, not something where you had to run around and get all out of breath.) It was worthy of a Greek tragedy, this softball game, brother against brother, Herculean effort expended to no avail, for all were too trashed to remember the score and gave up when it got too hot.

We went into Aunt J’s trailer. I have it on good authority that she was a good hearted person, but to me she was shriveled up and had a crassness about her I wasn’t accustomed to.

Sure I’d luv her now.

So we were on her screened in porch. (In case you don’t know, nothing prevents trailers Down South from being added onto, be it a porch, or a deck, or an aboveground pool complete with a porch, deck, and slippery slide.) “We” was this: me, mom, dad, Sis, bro, Aunt M, maybe Cousin A, Aunt J, and Aunt Sugar, who had bright red, slightly misaligned lipstick. (I mention this only because no good Georgia story is complete without the mention of either an Aunt Sugar or Aunt Precious and at least one fading magnolia with blue white hair and bright red lipstick, not always but generally confined to the oral area.)

Aunt J points a crooked, knobby finger at me and says, “Hey, you!”

I quiver under the strength of her gaze.

“Go fetch my smokes.”

I freeze, stuck to the spot like a kid caught passing notes in class.

After all, I was a nice church going, just-say-no, trickle-down-economics daughter of the eighties. This was a real moral conundrum for me. Smoking was bad for you! But this lady was scary!

“Go ahead,” whispered Dad.

I tried to catch Mom’s glance, but she had looked away. Ashamed to watch my fall from grace.

“Cat gotchur tongue? What’s the problem girl? They’re in the top drawer of my bed stand.” I stood to fetch the item of my shame.

“And don’t forget the lighter!” she called after me.

I rummaged in the drawer for a minute, among nail clippers and old coins, faded photos, buttons and snaps, until I found the cigarettes.

I brought them to her, cheeks aflame, eyes downcast.

“Goddammit child, when I want the menthols I’ll ask for them!” she bellowed.


That was the only family reunion we ever went to.

My Aunt M said she went again, just a few years ago. Aunt J and her good hearted, hard talking siblings are all gone, except for one long-lived, wide shouldered uncle born in the days of yore.

“The young generation don’t drink and cuss much,” M said. “So I guess there’s no point in going back!”

Hear, hear.


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