Hangin’ on by the ears of a pig…

When I was 5 years old, my great grandpa set me on top of a pig and slapped its ass. The pig bolted, but not before I could clinch my small iron fists around its ears. I remember this moment so clearly, even though it happened 25 years ago. I can recall sobbing and being terrified that I was going to fly off the pig. The men were standing behind the fence laughing as I clung on for dear life. The sharp whistle that came from my great grandpa’s mouth is what brought the bouncing pig back. It was trained to respond to his call.  My little fists were pried off its floppy ears as I was lifted back over the fence into the soothing arms of my grandma. Everyone there that day was quite surprised I stayed on the pig. All of the women darted out of the kitchen when they realized what was going on. They were yelling at my mischievous great grandpa, who stood there chuckling. This is one of the earliest memories I have of visiting my family in Kaplan, Louisiana. All four of my great grandparents lived in this rural town. When I was little, we would make the trip once a year to go and see them in their farm homes. I remember playing inside the dangling moss walls of the gum tree in the front yard and exploring the cluttered garage to find eggs that were nestled in rusted coffee cans and old lawn mower parts. I remember walking into the dimly lit home of my great grandpa and being called over in Cajun-French to sit in his lap. There was a multiple compartment candy dish that sat on a lazy susan and would spin around so you could choose your favorite candy from wherever you happened to be seated around the table.   A hot pot of gumbo was on the stove 8.5 times out of 10.  These visits were always short and I secretly wished they had been a bit longer.

Looking back on my childhood of living in many different states, moving from one place to the next…it makes me happy to think of a place in the country where I come from, in a time where things moved a bit slower. My grandparents tell me stories of their childhood and I soak in the details. There is a big piece of my heart that somehow wishes I could have also experienced living during that time, despite all of the hardships a family may have endured. In my early 20’s I traveled and lived in rural Africa multiple times. When I returned home after the first visit, I told my grandma all about it and she seemed to absorb every detail. She related to the lifestyle I had just experienced…a lifestyle of bathing outdoors, hauling water, using an outhouse, working the fields, frugality…a time when the family unit worked together to survive and were happy with very few material possessions. Our conversations inspired me and I felt a huge connection to my grandparents after this trip. It was around this time that I began to honor my unique cultural background. Small trips back to the south to visit my family have me wondering what my life would have been like if I had grown up on a farm in Louisiana. Sometimes I ponder the worlds of technology and reasons why families have become so geographically spread out. I think of cultural pieces created and lost by this movement and wonder how it has impacted my own sense of place and history. As time lapses, my desire to feel connected to a story much larger than my own, grows. Listening, capturing, and witnessing how culture exists, shifts, and transforms is a way to re-capture what may have gotten lost in the fast-paced reality shifts of the last decade or so. Lately I have been feeling that life is too short to not make this connection between past and present. Moving into my 30’s, I’m beginning to feel the importance and urgency of time and how I choose to live out my work in the world. How can I carry these pieces of my family’s history in a way that informs how I choose to exist in the world? How do I keep alive or make alive interactions that cultivate the preciousness of humanity and honors those that paved the way?  What pieces of my culture do I hang onto and how do I keep redefining this connection?

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