I was born in Pensacola. My dad wanted his first born "son" to be born where he had been. Surprise, not only was I not a son, but his son was born in California. When I look at the history Dad's family has in the panhandle, I am not surprised at the feeling I have had every time I head east past Mobile into Pensacola. The irony, I doubt I have spent more than 2 years there since 1975. Yet, in my heart, and my soul, heck, even in my blood, I know I am coming home.
The memories of my childhood time there are so vivid and dear. From "helping" my Aunt Becky and Sarah at their little store and gas station out 9 mile road near Beulah to late night trips to go swim at the beach. There was Sunday brunches with the family at Andre's or at a buffet, or if we were lucky, a trip to Hopkins boarding house. Summer vacations camping out at Munson, picking blackberry's, feeding the calves at my Uncle's in the morning. Trying to escape the sun at the inaccurately named Shady Grove Cemetery where most of Dad's family is buried.
I regret that I have spent so much of my life away from my cousins on both sides, decades have gone by before I see them. We aren't as close as I wish we were, but until 1975, they were so much of my life. We often moved from Pensacola to Buena Park, but I don't remember most of those times we were in Pensacola, I was too young. In California my Aunt Patt and my Aunt Sue and their children were part of our life always. My cousins Phyllis and Phil were so good to us. I remember wanting to be just like Phyllis when I grew up, a decade older, she seemed to be everything I wanted to aspire to. Phil like Phyllis always showed a lot of patience with what must have been annoying little kids.
Suzie, I remember as a baby. Her mom would step out and she would cry and to make her stop I would jump up and down. I don't know that it helped but at my age then, well, it was the best that I could think of. As she got older we played dress up, she always had the best toys. And of course there was always her Dad. Uncle Pete and Dad always got along. We all went together to San Diego to the zoo and Sea World. Or to Tijuana. There wasn't much time that my Aunts or my cousins weren't part of our life.
In Florida there was Uncle Ray and Aunt Sarah, Uncle David and Aunt Becky and Aunt Mandy and Uncle Mike. Uncle Ray's kids were someone we didn't see that much of, they were just so much older. Kandi was always off playing softball, but we did spend time with April and with Michael. April always told me I had to do what she said because she was my elder, and well Michael and Johnny always had more fun together than I did. There was 10 years between me and Little Ray and Phyllis, and about four between Suzie and I. As cousins do, we always managed to work it out somehow, but I know the older ones probably didn't appreciate being stuck with us younger ones.
It was my cousins that took me to my first R rated movie, the Lifeguard. I think it was in 1976. I remember Phyllis or maybe Renee told me to close my eyes when the naked backside of Sam Gould was on the screen. In 1974 Dad and Uncle David decided to buy some calves. That fall it seemed like we got up at the crack of dawn every day to go bottle feed the calves. We avoided the shed though. Dad had chased down a wild hog and it would attack the shed wall if anyone walked by. I had to admit though I was afraid of Aunt Becky's rooster, going to get eggs wasn't really something I liked to do.
Back then Aunt Becky and Uncle David's house was tiny. But everyone was welcome. And the meals Aunt Becky would prepare. I think I don't think of a southern lady without thinking of Aunt Becky. Uncle Ray and Aunt Sarah had a pool, and boy we always wanted to go there to swim. Of course if we did you could count on Dad egging on Uncle Mike. In hindsight I don't think he was always that nice to him. The summer of 1976 we went to what I have been told was a reunion on the blackwater river. All I recall was tubing with my cousins and being told to hold on and not go in spots because there were snakes. If I got to meet any of Dad's relatives that day, I don't remember.
I remember seeing my great grandmother Mama Hardy the Christmas of 1975. I don't remember much about her, she was thin. She had white hair. She was old. Mom didn't like her much and she and Dad had a fight that day about going. I don't remember Aunt Dot's face either, or Aunt Eulene. I know we went to see them both more than once. But what I remember of Aunt Dot was she did ceramics and lived by a viaduct where there was an alligator in the water. And Aunt Eulene, I remember she had pretty hair, and I liked her laugh.
Uncle David has lived in the same place for as long as I can remember out on Klondike road. And Uncle Ray's place was out on 9 mile road. Even today I could get from either place to the other or to my stepmother's house in Myrtle Grove. As many times as I was there though, I couldn't tell you how in the heck we got to Aunt Mandy's or where in Pensacola she lived. The airfield by the house we lived in in 1975 is now some kind of business park or strip mall. I don't remember, but it was different I recall the last time I was home 11 years ago.
When I got out of the Marines I lived in Pensacola for a year. I did get to meet Uncle Odell and Jinx, which actually was the first time I had ever heard I looked like my grandmother. By then Uncle Grady had died, but as many times as I remember going to the Barnes feed store, I don't ever remember meeting him. I do remember Aunt Becky's parents and visiting them though. Funny, I think I can picture their faces more than Dad's family.
I don't have the same memories of the family as Phyllis. It makes me sad sometimes that she has such bad memories of the family. For me, everyone is frozen in time in my heart. What I know and remember is those times from about 40 years ago. And as many decades as it has been, my Uncles are still Pete and Mike, even though they have been divorced most of that time, just as on my mom's side my Aunt's are my Aunt Anna and Aunt Barbara.
What I remember about growing up is feeling cherished and protected. After Mom and Dad divorced, pitied maybe. There was a security for me in my family. I wish my daughter could experience some of that. She doesn't have the extended family that I did. Whether it was my father's rather opinionated and loud Barnes clan, or my mom's stern and stiff Hinds one, I was lucky to have the experiences I did.
I wish that I had gotten to meet some of Dad's cousins. That I knew more of the family than Bobbie and Dan and Jill, like I do on my Mom's side. I wish I could have asked more questions of Dad's Aunt's and Uncle's. I wish my life and the lives of my cousins hadn't taken us all in different directions. And most of all, I wish my daughter knew what she was missing.