In our case, it was just an 80 mile road trip up Hwy 281 through Three Rivers, Whitsett, Campbellton, and Pleasanton from George West, Texas to San Antonio.
Growing up, my family customarily travelled to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve/Day, and Mother’s Day. A portion of the Christmas holiday, Easter, and 4th of July were generally spent with our dad’s family in Uvalde.
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we left as soon as possible after we got out of school. Early out was 2:30. We usually walked home from school, my two sisters and me, but on that day Mother would pick us up.
I never thought about the logistics of those trips until I grew up. We always seemed pretty put together. I don’t remember ever picking the clothes I’d wear for those few days so Mother must have packed us. As a parent, I generally let my kids pack their own things once they were school age. The kids and I were generally travelling into the wilds of Montell so color co-ordination wasn’t a high priority.
South Texas weather is changeable in the fall. Shorts one day, coats the next. We were usually driving a portion of the trip after dark often as a Texas blue norther roared south, a hard cold rain splashing against the windshield. We said the rosary as soon as we started on our trip so, in my child’s mind, we had protection from the hazards of travel. Car trips were easier when I believed that guardian angels were circling the car with swords of light.
From the car we’d race across Grandma’s yard, chilled air whipping our legs, into the warmth of her home. The yeasty smell of potato rolls rising on the stove greeted us before Grandma could get from the kitchen to the front door to wrap arms around us. There was a huge pan of enchiladas, cheesy and fragrant with onions, bound for the oven as soon as we got there.
On Thursday morning, Mother set a children’s table in the kitchen after the kitchen table was no longer needed for breakfast and food prep. Aunts, uncles, and cousins, who all lived in San Antonio, arrived just before noon. There weren’t many of us. My mom had one brother and two sisters. One of the sisters, the youngest in the family, was a nun and couldn’t come home at Thanksgiving. Our four cousins, all boys, were split between Mom’s brother and sister.
We weren’t together frequently enough to be comfortable with one another. I remember feeling awkward, but that’s my reaction to most gatherings. I’m the middle sister in my family of girls with an incredibly poised, clever older sister and an amazingly cute, funny younger sister. Then as now, I wished for invisibility as a super power.
I connect family celebrations with food and laughter, remarks caged in kindness and reserve, hearty hugs, mumbled answers, averted eyes. The familiar warmth of disfunctionality makes me smile. In the rear view mirror, the memory is reassuring.