Well, it’s that time of year again. The time to perfunctorily give thanks. Go ahead. Make fun of the word “perfunctorily” if you like. Or look it up and start using it in everyday language. It’s a good word. I don’t have a fantastic vocabulary. My husband and my father in law put me to shame and I find myself constantly saying, “Well, I’d respond if I had any idea what you just said.” I simply ask for a definition when I don’t know the word. Then I try to remember it the next time I’m looking for a weird word reference. If I don’t like the way the word sounds, however, like “innocuous,” I just skip the definition and pretend I never heard anyone speaking to me. That works, too. Innocuous just sounds like someone with a bad cold is about to cough something up. Flee from it.
Actually there’s nothing perfunctory about my gratitude. I am deeply grateful for everything I’ve been given and mindful that I don’t deserve even the scent of it. I am keenly aware of the kids growing up and of how soon the dynamic will change to the point where I’m calling them and wondering who’s coming home or what their plans are. Right now, they have no plans but me. I thank the Lord so much for this time. It will pass.
All of this thinking started a conversation about some of our favorite past holidays. And I can’t muse on past Thanksgivings without going straight back to Joe Wheeler State Park, AL. 2007.
It was August 2007 when the Texas family began to toss around emails about maybe doing something a little different for the upcoming holiday season. Of course, being August, I thought I was WAY ahead of the game in finding lodging options and making a game plan. I was grotesquely misled on this point. People who make cool plans for Thanksgiving make them far in advance of August or they make the same plan every year, ensuring that you never get the chance to rent their awesome cabin. But after spending an excessive amount of time online searching every possible camp, cabin, state park, Bates Motel, and dude ranch between Florida and Texas, we found a situation we thought was going to work. We’d go to north Alabama–the closest thing to a halfway point where you don’t have to marry a local to stay there and you get to go home with all of the kids you came with. This would be a 10 hour drive for my branch of the family and a 17 hour drive for the Texas branch. Eh. Almost halfway. It beats the wilderness in Mississippi. And Louisiana was never on the table.
And it shall remain that way forevermore.
I was 7 months pregnant with Sister Squish when that roadtripping adventure began. Our plan was to drive north on I-75, pick up my in-laws at the Atlanta airport after they flew in from TX, and then continue the rest of the trip with them in the car. This seemed like a good idea at the time. However, 2 of our existing kids were in car seats, which adds the bulk of an overweight teenager to the seat they occupy. And we had enough luggage to justify a horse trailer. So to add two people and THEIR luggage seems plum crazy now that I look back on it.
Alabama is an interesting place. As with Louisiana, I have to make the professional recommendation that one fly over the state whenever possible. If not possible, keep your eyes peeled, your GPS on hand, and a camera ready. You’ll pass large billboards advertising a stereotypical devil who is popping out of flames and saying “Go to church! Or the Devil with Get You!” (I did not make this up.) And you’ll happen upon the occasional oasis called the “Wallace Gro and Ser Sta.” I can only assume that this stands for Wallace Grocery and Service Station, but I suppose there are other possibilities.
We threw the inlaws in the car in Atlanta and kept going.
It’s been long enough ago now, (and time heals all wounds) that I don’t remember why we chose to stop at Walmart on the edge of town to buy ALL of the groceries we’d need for the week. Perhaps the only reason was that we are insane. Because there wasn’t room in our Nissan Quest for even an airline package of peanuts.
And it was raining.
So after 11 hours stuffed in a van with car seats, 7 people, and 27 people’s worth of luggage, we climbed out in the rain and went into WALMART 2 days before Thanksgiving to buy groceries for 12 people for a week, including the fixings for a large traditional Thanksgiving meal. Let’s pause to absorb that for a moment.
Just pausing on the Walmart portion alone would be enough.
We split up.
We each had a cart and a list.
We met back at the van 20 minutes later with the food. There was a moment at which we all stared at each other and these bags. We were all thinking the same thing. But it was raining and no one was getting any less crazy by also getting wet.
This story is too long, but I can’t finish it before introducing the house flies.
We kept driving. The further into north Alabama we went, the louder I could hear the banjos playing in my mind. I hoped it was in my mind. I searched the roadsides for chalk outlines or anyone whose eyes might not be right.
And then, just when I had decided to induce my own labor, thus ensuring that I would HAVE to get out of the car and also probably guaranteeing me a private hospital room for the week, we pulled into Joe Wheeler State Park.
It was a crisp, clear, beautiful fall day and the colors were changing late in the season. Suddenly it was all worth it. We signed in at the office and then wound our way around to our cabin, sitting high and stately above the Tennessee River. The rain had slacked off and we could unload in peace.
So we grabbed the 1200 bags of groceries we had just purchased and walked into the kitchen to set it all down.
That’s when we realized why this cabin had still been available in August when we booked. It wasn’t because no one else was looking. It was because all the other traveling hopefuls KNEW about this cabin.
This was the housefly cabin.
I’m not sure if this was built over an insect burial ground or had once been home to a serial killer or what, but there were 100s of flies. HUNDREDS. Maybe thousands. OK, probably not thousands. They were literally everywhere in the kitchen. All over the windows. On all the appliances. Partying on the screen doors. Everywhere.
Thankfully the nice folks up at the office had thought to supply us with a flyswatter, anticipating what our first activity might be. My father in law went to town, smack-smacking those things all over the place. If I live to be a twisted 95 year old woman, I will never erase the image of Frank smacking all those flies. He didn’t give up until the last one was dead.
And then there was the problem of all the fly carcasses, though I think I’m probably not supposed to use the word carcass on such a small creature. The sheer number of them, though, demands it.
Having killed all the flies, cleansed the place with garlic, and received our Texas cousins with joy, we were set to spend the week there.
The rest of my memories are pretty great ones. The highs were in the 30s and the trees were the color of sunsets. We played football in the field across from our driveway and took walks through the woods. We imagined fires in what had once been a fireplace (not as good as the real thing, but I can dream up a roaring fire). There were nights playing Yahtzee with a four year old who shouldn’t have been able to count dots, let alone figure out that he had a full house, write it down, and spank me at the game I had brought from home. There was the one year old who couldn’t talk but loved to walk around in the driveway picking up shells and sporting the cutest little snow cap ever to frame up a fat little face. There were cuddles with the newest baby who has the heart of an angel from Heaven.
And when it came to our Thanksgiving meal, (because after all—this IS a post about Thanksgiving), we managed to cook it in a primitive kitchen that wasn’t good for much more than lodging houseflies. I mashed potatoes with a fork and a spoon and one of those hand-held twisty mixers that people used before someone invented the electric ones. I think we might have roasted the turkey over a fire in the back yard that we built with flint and kindling, but it’s possible we used an oven. At the end of the whole process, however ugly it may have been, we had a feast. A FEAST. We had turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes and corn and pumpkin pies and probably 10 other things I can’t recall.
And as we all sat down to eat it in a dining room full of two picnic tables, we had the prayers of a 2 and 3 year old, who from their precious little souls and in their raspy voices thanked God for the whole fat lot of us and for every moment in this haunted housefly graveyard.
After a week rambling through this cabin that had room after room after room, we came down to our final night there. I guess we must have had phones to the outside world and I think I recall turning on a fuzzy signaled TV. Perhaps it was this that told us some weather was coming. It was going to be harsh. The temperatures would be dropping and rain was coming. It was a great night to gather some wood and make yourself a fire. Oh wait. Never mind. That ship had sailed when someone removed the fireplace to make room for the insect farm.
We were sort of wondering what all of this was going to look like when, at 4 p.m. the power went out. The power was very VERY out. Let me just tell you where you don’t want to be for a night when the power goes out.
THAT HOUSE. I mean, how you gonna fight the flies if you can’t see them? How you gonna find that 113th room upstairs if you don’t have light? We did the only thing we knew to do. We huddled together back-to-back for body heat and slept that way for warmth.
Actually, we got in our vans and drove across the park to the Saturday night buffet inside the lodge. WOW. Where had THIS PLACE been all week? It was like we were back in 2007 again. There were fires and laughing patrons and white-coated waiters and moist little green jello cubes. And electricity.
And there were no flies.
And we were thankful.
That was one of our best Thanksgivings ever.
But we haven’t been back since.
We may be crazy, but we aren’t stupid.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!
The House of 1000 Flies
Sweet Niece on the banks of the Tennessee River
One of the two picnic tables in the dining area. The adults in my life won’t let me post a picture with both.
Out for a brisk walk with my baby
Cold weather agreed with her.