In the morning, I'll be heading off into the sunrise (or for those of you who insist on accuracy in geography over romance, the sunrise will be to my left) to visit my papa's homeland. The various Africans I've met working at Compassion always talk about "going home to the village" when they see their grandparents. (It doesn't matter how large a village, either, what I would call a metropolis, they may call a village, as long as it's their ancestral home (Do your grandparents count as ancestors? (And just how many parentheticals can I squeeze into one sentence?)).)
My fathers' ancestral village is Pampa, Texas, where you can hang your hat on the tip o' Texas, and this weekend we're going home to the village.
Growing up, we drove the long hot drive down to Pampa every summer. My sister and I would amuse ourselves with elbow wars over the armrest ("Moo-ooom, she's on my side!"); we would picnic in Trinidad, eating Cheetos and PB&J sandwiches and watching rabbits hop under the bushes; we would drive over Raton Pass (which never seemed like much of a pass to me) to overlook the brown nothingness of northern New Mexico; we would wait in line at the Raton Dairy Queen, the subsequent Dilly Bar just barely making up for the bathroom and the heat; we would stop at Stuckees to buy coloring books, its iconic roof sticking out like an oasis from the featureless land signaling one of our only diversions on the long journey; we would breathe deep and long at the sense of escape, seeing the straight shot of road spreading out before us for hundreds of miles (though what I was escaping at the age of 10 I do not know); we would sing/shout "I'm a ding-dong daddy from Dumas!" as son as we saw the first sign for Dumas, Texas (accent on the first syllable, please); and we would finally pull, 8 hours later, sticky and tired and icky, into my grandmother's driveway. She would run out and squeeze us and welcome us in her Texas-honey drawl.
We and our cousins, two boys roughly the same age as Tara and I, would romp in the sprinklers, put on patriotic night shows for the parents (which they will never let us forget), and play Spades well into the night (which was probably a rockin' 8 p.m.). We would take walks down by the "crick" where my dad used to catch crawdads. (By the way, Mike and I have devilishly schemed to teach Alexandra to call dear grandfather "Crawdad.") We'd scramble on the fitness course (though not for very long, as nothing can drain you like Texas heat and humidity). We'd climb on the dinosaur sculpture in the park. We'd eat Braum's ice cream for dessert.
I'd sit upright and silent in my great-grandparents house, afraid I'd break something. But when no one was looking, I'd pet their ceramic cat doorstop. They had many cats, for which I liked them.
We'd pose for pictures. We would, and still do to my great dismay, spend roughly 68 percent of our visit posing for pictures. Every summer we'd stage the same cousin photo on the same sofa until it just became cruel to try to jam Tara's and my womanly hips into the petite sofa one more time.
We'd spend, and still do spend, the remaining 54 percent of the time eating. (My percentages work out as sometimes we'd be both eating and posing for pictures at the same time.) We'd go to Furr's Cafeteria and meet everyone in the "village," because my grandmother of course knew every last person in Furr's. I'd eat small bowls of macaroni and cheese while my cousin convinced me that the southern delicacy known as "fried okra" was octopus, which I believed until college. We would eat at Dyer's BBQ (which Tara insists we visit at least 8 times on our 4 day trip), where we'd feast on ribs and brisket and Texas Toast. We'd waddle to our cars in the Texas heat and slump into the sofas at home to digest before the next meal.
We'd visit Amarillo, the nearest big city, where we'd visit the Big Texan and gawk while grown men tried to eat a 72-ounce steak in an hour, and I'd cower under the mounted heads I thought might fall on me.
Now every year when the heat first hits Colorado, I get that familiar urge to drive hours into the great open prairie. To escape. To eat barbecue. To walk with the mosquitoes down by the crick. To see my grandmother standing with her hand on the screen door and her familiar understated smile on her face.