This is the kind of place where tourists eat. It’s on the Gulf. The breeze is warm, the air is sticky.
Mama got here early. She’s drinking a Corona with a lime—as I live and breathe. Beer is something I hardly ever see her do.
Mike is with her. He is gray-haired, blue-eyed, all Alabama. He is family.
I hug Mama. She fits beneath my arm. Always has. She calls me “baby.” Always will.
I order a beer. Budweiser. My wife orders something with lime.
Mike and I talk football. He’s an expert. He can name each equipment manager in the SEC since Wade Wallace.
My sister is late arriving. She’s walking onto the deck, carrying a baby. Her husband is with her.
The baby looks like just like her.
She lets me hold her. The kid is heavy—like a sack of Quickcrete. She looks me in the eyes and holds her stare. I make a funny face. I would’ve made an okay daddy.
“She has your eyes,” my sister remarks.
“Really?” I say.
“Yeah, you’re the only person in the family with gray eyes.”
Well I’ll be dog. A baby with my peepers is an unfortunate soul. But then, I guess this means she’s one of us now.
Poor child. We’re not much of a family.
After Daddy died, Mama, my sister, and I slept in the same bedroom with the door locked. For four years I slept on the floor with our dog. And when my sister had bad dreams, she slept on the floor beside me.
Nobody tells you grief feels just like fear.
We aren’t like other clans. We don’t have cookouts anymore. We don’t do three-legged races at barbecues. We don’t own real estate. We’re less like a family, more like a support group.
But we’ve done life together. Lots of life. The three of us worked menial jobs together. We threw newspapers at two in the morning—together.
We pooled money for rent. We unloaded catering trucks, laid sod, cleaned condos. My sister rode on my hip until she was fifteen.
And even though our holidays were pitiful affairs, we still had them.
Once, we had Thanksgiving at Waffle House. We sat in a booth. I ordered eggs and bacon. My sister ordered a patty melt.
Mama said grace, then said, “You know, one day you’re both gonna have families of your own.”
It seemed like a far-off fairytale.
“I’m serious,” she went on. “On that day, three of us are gonna go to one of those tourist traps, have drinks, and forget about these hard times.”
Then, she wiped her eyes with a paper napkin.
That’s ancient history now. But here we sit, just like she said. We’re at a tourist trap. Mama is drinking beer with lime. My sister is a woman. Nobody’s drying eyes with napkins.
I don’t want to forget our hard times. In fact, I’d do the whole painful thing over again.
As long as I could do it with my family.