(This is the memoir assignment I turned in today for my literacy class.)
I think the first time it really registered with me that we were almost grown was a Fourth of July Ultimate Frisbee game. It was the summer that Logan, Josh, and I turned nineteen. We split into teams of older versus younger, two boys and two girls on each side (Josh’s girlfriend Amy is for all practical purposes a member of the family, and joined the older team). Any confidence we as elders felt about our abilities evaporated as the younger team soundly trounced us. It was pathetic. Our experience and age had failed us for the first time. These kids had grown too tall and too strong. It wasn’t the same, and I didn’t like it.
A natural question if you don’t know us is “who are we?” We are cousins—the seven children of two sisters and a brother (there is another brother, but he doesn’t have any kids). We are Logan, Betsy, Josh, Katie, Wesley, Sara, and Benjie. There are exactly three months between Logan and Josh, and less than five years between the oldest and the youngest. The age difference means less and less the older we get. We used to split off; the three oldest were the triplets, and the younger four separated into boys and girls. Now, it is rare that we are all in the same place at the same time and when we are, we segregate ourselves less. When we were younger, every time we saw each other we begged our parents to let us spend the night together. Now, afternoons and weekends together are planned months in advance and stolen from term papers, part-time jobs, and swim practice.
I can distinctly remember the Christmas break before the Fourth of July Frisbee game, not because it was especially different from any other time we spent together, because it wasn’t. We follow a pattern every time we hang out, and that routine is comfortable and familiar in its predictability.
Card games are a given. Uno, Spoons, I Doubt It, Authors—countless hours slip away playing these games. The various decks are left on the burgundy carpet between games; the floor of the sunroom is the only space large enough for all of us to sprawl or sit. The deck of Authors cards is the same one our parents played with when they were kids. By some miracle, all the cards are still there, forty years later. A few Christmases ago, Memaw found a company that had reprinted this literary version of Go Fish, and bought each of the cousins a deck. As the only female author featured, Louisa May Alcott cards are coveted and fought over. Cheating is prevalent in all our games, but it has reached a new level in Spoons, where we barely try to hide it. “Do you have any 6’s?” “Hey, give me that queen.” We go from unspoken trades and whispered questions with the person next to us to passing cards freely across the circle. It’s best to keep the siblings separated during these games; Katie can be especially vicious when provoked by her older brother Logan.
We watch movies—home videos of ourselves as babies and toddlers, and our favorite classics; Singin’ in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Arsenic and Old Lace are what we were raised on. We’ve been watching these movies since before we could understand the plot (or even realize that they had one).
Memaw’s house, the site of our semi-annual get-togethers, is a log cabin in the woods. She moved to this tiny house beside a creek about seven years or so ago. All of memories of her from high school are associated with this place. It’s tucked into a valley between two mountains and there’s no cell phone service, which isolates us from the outside world while we’re there.
When we get sick of cards or Memaw gets sick of the T.V. racket (taken over by the boys and their video games), we go on hikes. The older boys talk about video games, and the younger boys listen. The girls listen too, or don’t pay attention at all. It’s hard to tell if they’re listening, as they don’t really know what the boys are talking about, nor do they care. Memaw’s driveway is about half a mile long, and once we reach the end of it we walk down the middle of the narrow back road (I remember a time, not too long ago, when it was unpaved). One direction takes us to the old mill; the other to Memaw’s other piece of land and creek, where Sara once cracked her head open on a rock.
Back at the house, the games begin again. We are generally good at sharing, and everyone gets a turn on the Wii. I am knitting a blanket that will be made up of forty-eight striped squares and watching the action. Being the oldest girl, I have always been the most maternal and mature of the bunch. I’m sitting in Papaw’s old recliner, which is where Katie spends most of her time working on the sudoku book we gave her for Christmas. Memaw pulls a rocking chair up near me and starts working on a crocheted blanket. I have started scrapbooking recently, so I feel the need to document everything. I have pictures of Memaw pretending to sleep (really sleeping in this house would be impossible), Sara wearing the pink Berry sweatshirt I gave her for Christmas (I don’t think she took it off the whole time we were there), card games, video games, and so much more.
It’s the day after Christmas, Boxing Day according to the calendar. We don’t really know what that entails, but we’ve put our own spin on it by organizing a Wii boxing tournament. Wesley, Sara, and I are at a disadvantage as we don’t have a Wii, but I develop a pretty good technique (“You look like a praying mantis,” Josh tells me) and I am able to beat all my cousins except Logan. Once eliminated, I make my way to the kitchen to see what Memaw is up to. Here’s somewhere I can outdo Logan any day.
“Do you want to make some candy?” Memaw asks me. Candy is what she calls fudge, one of her go-to recipes for when her grandchildren are at her house, along with tacos and hotdogs cooked on the grill. While we melt, stir, pour, and mix, she discusses a wide range of topics, including her pet theory of why teenagers have no sense and should not be allowed to drive (apparently their frontal lobes aren’t fully developed. I wonder what her excuse for my cousins’ behavior will be now that we’re past our teens). We talk about my first semester of college, and she reminisces about her years at UTC and Berry. She gives me the recipe for the fudge and the chocolate roll-up cake that won an award and was printed in the newspaper. She tells stories about her mother and sister, and her sister’s crazy family. The other girls join us, and we mix half the batch of fudge without pecans, because the others don’t like them. I’ve heard the stories before, but it doesn’t matter, just like it doesn’t matter that I don’t even like fudge. It’s the being there that counts. Memaw is my last living grandparent, and every moment I get to spend with her and my cousins is valuable, because I realize that it won’t always be like this. I’ve seen how quickly someone can get sick and be gone, so I’m grateful that my grandmother can out-hike and out-ballroom dance me.
I know that in a few short years sleepovers like this will relegated to memories. I will graduate from college and start a real job the same year my brother plans to join the military. Josh and Amy seem to be getting pretty serious about each other. It won’t be long before we are getting married and having kids. Benjie, the baby of the family, is over six feet tall. These changes are exciting, but they’re also terrifying. I have trouble picturing Sara going to prom next year. I have trouble picturing myself not spending my spring, summer, fall, and winter breaks at my grandmother’s house, playing cards and video games, eating tacos with too little seasoning mix, making fudge. But I’ve copied the recipe onto a card decorated with bears (the key décor element of my grandmother’s little cabin) and tucked it into my recipe organizer where it waits for me to continue the tradition. I will enter the chocolate roll-up cake in the fair and win and blue ribbon. I will introduce my friends to my favorite old movies and card games (and use my best cheating strategies to get all four Louisa May Alcott cards). I will post my pictures on Facebook and paste them in my scrapbook. And I will definitely make fudge.
Memaw’s Chocolate Marshmallow Fudge
Combine 1 large can evaporated milk, five cups sugar, and two sticks butter. Bring to a rolling boil. Let boil eight minutes. Add a package of chocolate chips, one jar marshmallow cream, and crushed pecans (optional). Mix well. Place in a greased pan. Let cool.