Saturday, December 3, 2011

No. 90 Christmas with Kinfolks

"Christmas with Kinfolks"
(originally published in ©The Mailboat Christmas 1991)


    Gramma's name was Bonnie Bee. I knew that when I heard him (Granpa) late at night say, “I kin ye, Bonnie Bee,"he was saying, "I love ye," for the feeling was in the words. 
And when they would be talking and Gramma would say, ''Do you kin me, Wales?" and he would answer, "I kin ye," it meant, "I understand ye." To them, love and understanding was the same thing. Gramma said you couldn't love something you didn't understand; nor could you love people, or God, if you didn't understand the people and God. 
Granpa and Gramma had an understanding, and so they had a love. Gramma said the understanding run deeper as the years went by, and she reckoned it would get beyond anything mortal folks could thing upon or explain. And so they called it ''kin.'' 
Granpa said back before his time ''kinfolks'' meant any folks that you understood and had an understanding with, so it meant “loved folks." But people got selfish, and brought it down to mean just blood relatives; but that actually it was never meant to mean just that. 
Forrest Carter, "The Education of Little Tree" 

It's no wonder that the holiday season is the busiest travel time of the year. In late December, some sort of primeval magnet begins to tug at the heartstrings of almost everyone. They are pulled, drawn back to where their roots are.

Somehow spending Easter, Independence Day, even Thanksgiving, away from home is tolerable. But when mid-day sun hangs low in the Southern sky, when the days get short and the nights seem to last forever, when fall finally gives way to winter, something seems to pull each of us back home.

I wonder what Christmas means to folks who can't be with their kinfolks. No, I'm not talking about relatives and blood relations. I mean all the other everyday people who make life and living so rich an experience.

And just as with Little Tree, home and kinfolk suggest much more than just an immediate family. In my life, home has been the people of the Island, those from whom I heard the stories and learned the real lessons of living. Even though I still live on the Island, at Christmas I am drawn to the neighborhood where I grew up.

Looking up the path from Ole' Pa's House
I love to walk down the paths, across the ditches, and through the vines that still feel so much like they did a generation ago. And as I do, most often with one or more children tagging along, I am again one of “Charlie William's boys”,  just making my daily rounds. Sno' Ball asks me something about ball, Leslie tells what it was like to charge ashore on the beaches of Normandy in 1944, Kyle and Theresa show off their menagerie of pets, Ollie asks about Mama and Daddy, and Clara always declares that she wishes it could stay just as hot as it was last July. David gives me the latest scoop on local politics and asks if I know of anyone who might need help this Christmas.

As I walk around the neighborhood I feel again the feeling of "kinship" that brings me so much peace and comfort, especially during this season. I think quite often of how cheated I would have been if my circle of kinfolks had been limited to my blood relatives. Not that they weren't plentiful and cherished in their own unique way. It's just that all those others played such a special part in giving me a happy childhood and in shaping my character. Obviously, many of the "old people" of my youth now are gone. But their influence is still real, and as I walk by the porches and shady spots where they once taught me the lessons of life, they live again in my memory. I try and repay their gifts to me by narrating to my children some of the stories I once heard and learned.

I tell them about Cliff & Cottie, Polly & Hinkley, Gracie, Big "Ollie," Calvin, Cecil, Weldon, Hilda, Dallas and Terrell. I try to make them understand how my Aunts Lurena, Aggie, and Ezzer, and my Uncle "Big Buddy," instilled in me a feeling for what it was like to have lived at the Banks. I feel fortunate that rest homes and suburbs were not around to keep children away from the older people who seemed so prevalent when I was growing up. On the contrary, seniors occupied a position of honor wherever they went, and we children were obliged to listen and learn as they reminisced about what life really was all about. I am better today for having had a chance to know them.

These" old people" of my neighborhood, and some not so old, gave me a sense of kinship that was just as real as the genetic ties that bind me to my siblings.

That same path after a winter storm
I don't recall that I ever got a Christmas present from the kinfolk of my neighborhood, at least not one wrapped with bows and colored paper. Rather, they gave me gifts that have lasted all my life and that mean even more today than when I first received them. I have heard it said that "you make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give." If that is true, the old folks of my youth amassed a good portion of the latter.

And at this special time of year, when hearts are full and emotions close to the surface, I can enjoy again the very same gifts I received as a child. Unlike the more material presents so popular today, these gifts grow in luster over the years and escape the tarnish of time.

So when folks come home for Christmas from far away places all over the globe, so do I. But for me its just up the road a couple of miles to the place where my childhood memories are rekindled just by walking down the path to where my kinfolk once lived, and many still do.

I have spent only one Christmas away from home. That was in 1975 while I was teaching at Greenville Rose High School. Susan was expecting our first child (Emily was born on December 31) and the doctor advised against being more than a few miles from the hospital. Since then I haven't even come close to being anywhere other than here with my family and kin during the Holiday Season.

Once while driving across the Island bridge on Christmas Eve, "coming home" for Christmas, I commented to a friend, only partly in jest. "Life isn't fair, you know!" I lamented. When someone in the car pool asked what I meant I explained as follows, "There are well over 3 billion people in the world, and it just doesn't seem fair that only eighteen hundred or so of them get to spend Christmas on Harkers Island."

 Lucky me, I'm one of that eighteen hundred!

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