The last time I visited my mamaw, it was a spur of the moment thing. I was on my way back to school, and I swung by her house, even though it had been ages since I had stopped by. It didn’t take long to remember why. I stood in the doorway, unsure as to whether I should sit down or not. I started in about school and everything that was going on that I thought she’d like to know. Soon, we got to the question.
“So, when you going to bring me a girlfriend up here?”
“Oh Mamaw, I’ve been focusing so much on school and all the stuff I’m involved in that I haven’t had time to think of anything like that.”
She gave me a look and walked over to the refrigerator and pulled out a cold Natty Ice, Mamaw’s drink of choice. She placed it on the counter and announced, “Yeah, you never really were that interested in girls.” Bam. There it was. Mamaw was calling my bluff, and I wasn’t sure really what to do. She cracked open her brewski, and I could have sworn I was transported. The sound of Christmas past.
All the Christmases that I had at the Kirkland house seemed really forced. I would fight my cousins for a front tree spot, but Maggie was always promised that prime real estate. Casey and I were never really able to force ourselves to the front; we were too small, too mild. We would sit in the back and await our Christmas givings. Even as a child, I like to believe I wasn’t too high maintenance, but in comparison to the other cousin’s gifts, I couldn’t help but feel that maybe… just maybe… there was some underlying message behind the gifts we received. The first gift I remember was a VHS of the musical Annie, which in retrospect could be construed as Mamaw’s first passive-aggressive jab at my alleged lifestyle. Nothing could compare to the year that followed. Casey and I unwrapped our presents. The other boys were pulling out pocket knives; the girls were pulling out make-up and Barbies. Casey and I pulled out a miniature can of Beanee Weenees and Spicy Vienna Sausages (respectively), and toboggans. Mine had hair in it. Sweet deal, if I ever saw one. Casey and I traded gifts, mostly because I knew that Casey had this weird thing for Beanee Weenees that I still don’t understand. Mamaw asked us how we liked our gifts. Casey and I looked at each other, just a tender 8 and 9 years old, and agreed that the only thing we should do is nod enthusiastically. Mamaw patted me on the head and said, “Good. I know how you guys like to eat.” Thanks a heap, Mamaw, for picking up that my favorite hobby was… eating. We attempted to go one more time, but that was the year that the family decided to have Christmas in the rec center behind the flea market. We respectfully declined.
Sometimes I kind of miss Mamaw, but I refresh my memory with all the memories that we’ve created, and I’m good for at least another 6-18 months. She pops up in the best ways; for instance, the first night that I ever drank, a friend offered me her signature beverage, and being the naive 18 year old I was, I announced to the group, “Oh cool! This is what my mamaw drinks!” She’s always had the ability to add a little bit of extra flavor the conversation, even if it is the cheap kind that tastes similar to what I would imagine horse piss tastes like. She’s the kind of Mamaw you would take to a kegger… that everyone’s already drunk at… as long as there’s no homosexuals in attendance. Yeah. That’s about right.
Regardless, everyone wants a Mamaw that loves them without inquiring about his sexuality and/or eating habits. That’s where Facebook came in. Eventually, I would start sending friend requests to any woman who shared my mamaw’s name that could remotely qualify as typical “mamaw age.” That’s when I found Mamaw Joyce, a 69 year old living down in Alabama. So far, she’s been present for my admission to grad school, my birthday, and my college graduation. It’s not like she needed me; she has a giant family of her own, or at least what I can see from Facebook. She took me in, all filled with Beanee Weenees and resentment, and treated me as her own.
Even though I don’t play baseball like the other Kirklands, nor have any desire to acquire a girlfriend, I consider myself adopted… kind of like a mail order grandson. Mamaw 2.0 seems to be working out fantastically. So, in turn, I just collect my own family. I find them and adopt them as my own, and sometimes, I imagine what it would be like to have them all come together. I like to call it “Fantasy Family,” and it works in the same way a fantasy draft would for sports. You go and get them from other walks of real life, and then you keep up with them to see how they’re faring. You know that you’ve won at the end of the day when you realize that picking your own family is a lot more fun than sticking with only the players you were given by chance. And damn it, I made sure that all of them know that I have no preference for canned pork and beans.