Recently I attended the Cross family reunion in Rosston, Arkansas, population 265, duly noted on the city limits sign. This is south central Arkansas and these are my momma’s people. There are branches on the Cross family tree with which I am barely familiar. But I feel my kinship to them, not only in the blood we share, the pure genetics, but luckily in a certain generosity of spirit and stubbornness they carry with the gentle manners of good Southerners who are decent folk. I am proud to be counted among them.
My family, past and present, are people who love the land more than money. The land we stood on all weekend has been in the Cross family for generations, and will remain so if cousin Jim has anything to do with it. My great grandpa raised his large family, including my PaPaw, in the house where we all gathered for the weekend. That house has survived the vagaries of the worst Arkansas weather. My PaPaw was born in 1900, and his mom and dad lived there before him, which means that old clapboard house has stood for at least a century and a quarter.
As tradition dictates, when the Crosses get together we eat a lot of food. There was enough for 100, even though half that many came. Cousin Jim alone bar-b-cued ribs, brisket, pork loin, hamburgers, and hot dogs. His wife, Eddie Jane, made 7 or 8 cakes by herself. We provided the rest. You get the picture. A Cross family reunion is no place for weight watchers. You might as well just put that diet down.
I’m writing this because the older I get the more family matters. Also because family matters can get in the way of good writing like nothing or nobody else. I thought I would think about these things on the page for a few posts and see what comes of it. The following poem arrived via the Rosston reunion.
The Stuff We’re Made Of (for Patti and Jerri)
Three cousins dig under an Arkansas sun.
It’s early October.
We are on the land that birthed the Crosses.
This tough stuff we scrape with a long stick and sharp stone,
this hard red clay, used to tornados, drought, flash floods–
this is what our moms are made of.
And we are part of them. You can see it in the way we dig
this bottle with stick and stone in ground that will not give.
We will not quit until the treasure is uncovered.
We are part of one another.
Cousins. Family. Related through our mothers.
Here is where my great grandfather farmed and forged
and here, my PaPaw born.
Here is where my MaMaw had most of her ten children.
I feel her smiling in the sun that shines on us
while we dig at that old dirt;
in this same soil she made food grow,
fed her children, our mothers.
Three cousins, we dig in concert with each other,
a winning team of diggers,
though we may differ in politics or religion.
There may be little enough we actually agree on,
but that blood coursing through our veins
holds us together like the clay
we scrape and pound to get at one glass bottle.
On this we all agree: blood is thicker than water,
and it’s a good thing since there ain’t much water
‘round here right now.
Cousins, I am glad for your presence
and this strange and simple task we’ve set ourselves.
There is something so symbolic in it
that words fail even me. Truly,
I am grateful to you,
hard as it was for me to get here from where I began.
I can hear my panting breath, feel my pounding heart again,
remember everything we ever did
in Camden or in Minden.
I love you more than I ever have before.
Blessed as I am by your patience and persistence,
I feel MaMaw in us all.