"When Leroy met Mary at the Snuff Dippers Ball.” I sing this chorus in my head from a folky little song written by my uncle about the night my grandparents met and it sums up my entire world in my head. Leroy, my Poppa, was out with his buddy "just looking for something to do” when they happened upon the Crystal Ball, nicknamed "The Snuff Dippers Ball" for I assume obvious reasons. My 18 year old grandmother Mary Linda (nicknamed Puggie by everyone except my Poppa, he would call her Mary) happened to be there with her family and her long fiery red hair caught his attention as soon as he stepped in the door. He pointed to her and told his buddy “that one's mine” and asked her to dance. He had three sons already and my young Nanny Bush became their mother, and went on to have ten more children with my grandfather. Warm and affectionate with each other until the day he left us, it was so surprise to me they had so many. So all my aunts and uncles had children and my mother (the baby) had me and my siblings and ever since I was born their has been a Birthday Sunday at my grandparents humble little home in McCalla, Alabama, to honor the many family birthdays that take place during each month.
I love family traditions so much, when life is so uncertain, it's nice to still have things you can always count on. Its hard to describe the feeling I get as we drive there. I slowly pass the pasture and the creek and the little house that used to belong to my grandparents that mom and mother in law used to hang out in high school, then up the hill where they live now to try to find a parking spot that won’t block anyone or us in. Just pulling on that road makes my heart settles into a comfort. I've moved around so much in my life and this little spot on the hill off Burchfield Loop is where I feel anchored to. I can see myself as a child on that hill, playing and pretending, crying, playing with my cousins, feeling jealous of the older ones and showing off to the younger ones, and loving them all like brothers and sisters. I can see a little red haired girl sitting on the hill and anxiously waiting for my biological father to pick me up for one of our weekends, or watching my grandfather work in the garden. I can still taste the blackberry cobbler my nanny made from the berries we picked outside and smell the fresh smell of green peas being snapped into big plastic bowls on the dining room table. My soul feels at home.
Flash back to present time and my boys pour out of the van to find their cousins and we walk up the stairs to find my family buzzing around getting ready for the lunch. The walls are covered in family photos new and old. We all find my Nanny Bush who must be hugged upon arrival as per law. Everyone there pitches in for food, drinks and paper plates and my aunt bakes a sheet cake that up to 40 of us at a time gather around to sing a loud, half laughing, and off key “Happy Birthday" after lunch. Then we search for the red solo cup that has your name on it and try to squeeze somewhere to eat a piece of the best cake in the world. Under the dining room tables you might find one of my uncles napping, because growing up with so many kids in small living quarters they still find their best naps taken on the floor with everyone talking around them. The great grand kids push open the sliding door and head toward the creek, just like me and my cousins used to do after cake on Birthday Sunday.
If it happens to be your birthday month my grandmother will find you and hand you a ten dollar bill with a kiss on the cheek and tell you to go buy a hamburger, (her amount over the years as always been generous to include hamburger price inflation). She is funny and warm and sharp as a tack and knows each one of our birthdays, and everything about what's going on in our lives. Even I mix up my three boys names everyday but she never has, I think there is something so special about that. I’ve always felt so thankful to be a part of this family, the kind that is there to support you in whatever you do and will notice if you are missing from Birthday Sunday. My husband travels overseas a lot for work and I don’t know how many times I have to explain to different family members where he is and how long he will be gone. Even when you marry in, its like you've always been there.
I have a big loving family who loves being together, a family that drives everyone to want to be there, crammed in together at Birthday Sunday, with no guaranteed place to sit or place to park, but without fail every third Sunday of every month that is where you will find us all. So if you ever want to drop in, come on over, and as tradition you will get to jump to the head of the food line, after the birthday honoraries of course, and don’t forget to get a hug from Puggy before you go.