My Grandmother's Gift

For Labor Day, and other holidays, my house ends up being the house where you can go to eat and hang out. Ever since I became an adult, it has been this way. I don't know if it's because I moved away from home after college, or because I'm just social, but having friends over has always been one of the things I enjoyed about holidays, any holiday.

On the menu today: Ribs, and Jerk Chicken, Cornbread (which I can't eat), BBQ Beans and fresh grilled corn.

Living away from the proverbial "Home", that place where you grew up, where your parents live, forces you to rethink family. Your blood relatives will always be your family, but 2500 miles between you and your kin forces you to create a new kind of family, one filled with people you collect in your travels, people you feel some kind of kinship with. Distance forces you to curate your collection of friends as others might an art collection.

Desert: Some spades, adult beverages, Cards Against Humanity and trash-talking served with a dash of "what do you think about..." and "what should I do about...?"

It's good to come together in the good times. I have found that my home, whether it has been in Arizona, New Jersey, Austin, San Antonio or California, has been a safe haven not just for me and my immediate friends, but for their friends as well, especially in times of trouble, too. On 9/11, My house was New York Central. I can't recall if anyone called me on that day and asked permission, but as the towers fell, Expatriated New Yorkers showed up at my door and we watched the news coverage together, then stared at the replays all day in disbelief, alternating between crying and our remembrances of a city that would never be the same.

There were similar scenes for Katrina and Rita. Friends from the coast evacuated to my house, some bringing people I didn't know with them. I put them up, too. We filled two houses with folks sleeping everywhere there was an empty space. We watched the news coverage of the drowning of New Orleans and cried, together.

I have blessed to have great friends. It's easy to forget how people make you feel with miles between you, but fortunately for me, I have collected some people that make me feel good most of the time. It doesn't matter if we haven't seen each other for awhile, when we get together, we tend to pick up right where we left off.

Beverage: Homemade wine

My grandmother's house was like this, too. I have dusty memories of her always having a house full, everybody with a plate, or more likely, a jelly jar full of some brown homemade liquid that she ladled out of a big clay vessel. People would walk to her house from what felt like miles around. These people had lived near each other for decades. Their ancestors shared the same heritage, both African and Muskogee, ad everyone was related to everyone by either marriage, blood or choice, many times removed. She died when I was fifteen, and I never got the recipe for the brew since I was never old enough to drink it myself. Folks would come from the surrounding area and she would give them a mason jar full of her brew for a dollar a jar. That was a lot of money, more than a pack of cigarettes, and I have many memories of her removing a white handkerchief from her bosom, untying it, and revealing a wad of dollar bills that she would lock up next to her gun at night.

Was my grandmother a bootlegger? Probably, but her whatever else she was, she was a creator of community. The brew created a reason for people to gather and play bid whist and spades and dominoes and talk. They brought their problems and talked them out. Grandma ladled the brew and laced it with a little advice. Her house was the center of a community.

Somehow, I ended up making my own brew to share with my friends. Maybe it was an ancestral memory, or maybe all of those chemistry classes, or maybe just memories of my grandmother lurking in the recesses of my mind, but my husband and I make wine that we share with our friends when we gather. Unlike Grandma, we don't charge by the jelly jar. Inflation would have use charging seven or eight dollars a glass. In grandma's day, people would save their money for their brew. They'd roll their own cigarettes and gladly spend their hard-earned dollars with her instead, opting to spend the afternoon on her porch or enjoying the warmth of the fireplace that warmed her home.

My parents migrated north, then we migrated west, and friends can no longer walk down the road to Grandma's house for some conversation and some brew. My parents are long gone, so "home" is no longer even there. The house I grew up in has been subdivided and is now a multi-family home. Now, home is a theoretical place, one that exists where I exist, where friends gather and sip the new brew that we make, and my friends bring me their dollars in the form of laughter. We may have thrown off many of the things that Grandma took with her from the reservation and sharecropper lands, and we don't live next to the same family that we have lived next to for decades, but we still find a way to create our own kind of community.


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