Links to the posts on the search for my birth family in chronological order are below.
Hello Beauties, welcome to part four on the Louisiana- Tennessee series- let's just jump right back in shall we ?
So... we were inside the van, as we sped towards Tennessee. I was ruminating on the shadows that followed the car. While everyone else slept, I chatted with my nephew Ryan about music and found out immediately that he’s as passionate about it as I, so that common ground was certainly a happy discovery and we traded thoughts on musicians we love. I, of course, forced him to listen to both Hippie Tendencies and NoteSpeak, which he did graciously, volume high enough through his earphones that I could hear it, bobbing his head and smiling and full of kind words for both projects ( I know I know, what’s he gonna say, “I hate it!” ? ) adding us to his playlist.
Mom and Christin
Greyson, Ryan’s young son, on a variation of the “Are we there yet?” after an hour or so piped up,
“Yes son ?”
“Where are we going?”
“Oh..Ok, Thank you.”
This was repeated hourly, verbatim, and for some reason, this tickled my every funny bone. Greyson so serious, Ryan so patient. Greyson
A word or six on those kids. Greyson is charm personified. Every place we stopped people fell in love with him as he zoomed around laughing and smiling at everyone who caught his eye. His sister Bailey, very seriously took my hand to cross the parking lot to enter a truck stop - conscientiously looking both ways before proceeding. She’s smart, beautiful and very much the older sister, always with one eye out for Greyson. Chris's daughter, clever Christin, is just a baby girl but is very shrewd (never missed an opportunity to take advantage of the fact that her mother, Chika , who couldn’t make the trip, was absent and fully embraced any leeway on the surgery treats she wasn’t usually allowed) and the teeny tiny leader of the pack. Watching the gentleness and skill with which Ryan and Chris interacted with their children during the trip filled my heart right up. I could not believe how easily we all got through that long ride- both ways. All my mommy instincts were dusted off and employed in helping to keep the children entertained. I got them singing a song we made up for the occasion “We’re going on an adventure!” which became the refrain for the journey.
Bailey, Christin, Greyson, Ryan
We rolled up to our hotel in Pigeon Forge in the early morning hours after having been stuck in Thanksgiving weekend traffic- more than 11 hours in the van. Christin perking up in my lap as we got closer- the children reenergized by all of the lights and amusement parks we passed, effervescent with excitement, the rest of us well and truly spent, and it was time to meet my sister Casandra and her husband Sherman for the first time.
Now she I felt as though I knew a bit, but it was heart thumpingly tender to stare into her eyes, to actually touch her for the first time. She is the most family-oriented of the bunch, the one who had organized the whole trip- complete with gift bags for each family member, full of her homemade soap inspired by the female members of our family and assorted goodies. She'd done recon on the hotel with her husband Sherman months earlier as well as preparing dinner for the length of our stay beforehand. I'd been video chatting with her and was well aware of her great sense of humor. I knew she was loving and kind, bossy as she is! Surrendering to her older sister authority is easy and it feels wonderful to know that she has everything, very capably, in hand. I bask in her total commitment to and love of her family. I adore her completely and felt our bond intensify instantly as she held me at arm’s length and grinned and cried, then grinned some more.
We rode the elevator up to the floor we had rented out and went to the suite we’d be staying in. I was in a room with Mom, my Auntie Selber and my cousin Gwen, both another mysterious connection just waiting to be sparked. I'll tell ya, Auntie's opening comment, "So how do you like livin' in a Socialist country?" let me know she likes to spar, okay, I thought, I'm up to the task. Despite her penchant for provoking, ahem, rather heated debate, Auntie Selber made me feel welcome and as if she'd been saving a place in the family for me.
That first night I opted for the pullout sofa bed, while Gwen and Auntie Selber shared the king size bed- top to tail, I left Shirley alone in hers. I don’t know, I was so tired and suddenly got shy. Felt vulnerable. As much as I was loving every moment with my mother and our deepening closeness this just felt like, well like, rather a lot. Mom in her droll ironic way made fun of my decision but respected it. I settled in my sofa bed and there was a constant blast of cold air on my head. I got up, checked the thermostat- looked for a button or switch on the vent all to no avail. Climbed back in and springs continued pushing naggingly into my back. Pulled the covers over my head and I swear I could STILL feel the air. I could not for the life of me settle in and get comfortable. The next morning I said as much.
Mom said “I slept perfectly! Well… there IS this big ol bed if you change your mind!”
Which I did. The next night and the remainder of our visit I shared the bed with my mother and it was the sweetest, most intimate, indescribable feeling. Here I am a grown ass woman cuddled up to Mom watching old black and white Christmas movies. Laughing and whispering before falling asleep after a comforting pat on my arm from my mother. My mother. Wait, one more time- my actual, real, honest to goodness MOTHER. Truly heady stuff beauties. I slept soundly for the remainder of the trip.
The next few days were a whirlwind of playing with the children at the nearby fun parks, eating and getting to know all these new people. I won't list everyone in this post or it'll just be one long recitation of names and the ties we all share. I did my best to spend time with each one while there though and fell in love with them all.
Gwen's daughter Kameran and her son Isaiah
Raven and Gabrielle
Casandra's grandbabies Gabrielle and Nickolas Nickolas
Gwen and I took walks in the morning and I got to hear something about my cousin’s life. She’s also musical and very companionable. I felt such ease in her company, less pressure somehow to live up to whatever it is this family thought I ought to be. After those conversations, and one particularly intense heart to heart between my sisters and myself where we discussed our childhoods and cried for the lack of each other as kids, I felt more and more a part of this group. My sister Casandra was determined to erase the years past and gathered me to her with a fierceness that was breathtaking. The enduring, incandescent female energy of this matriarchal family is palpable at all times. Shirley has four sisters, each strong-minded, each resourceful. Every day I spoke with Mom’s sister Auntie Silver, who lives in California, by phone. A disappointment that I didn’t have the opportunity to meet her this time round, as I felt we had the most in common of any of my aunts. But, lemme tell you, all these tough, compassionate, opinionated, women inspired me, and I felt so much that I belonged there with them. That I, too, carry their strength.
Rhonda Casandra and Gwen
I was speaking of the intimacy created by shared moments a couple of blog posts back and about how there was that feeling of a hyper distillation of time- both longer and shorter than the actual three days we were there. There was a constant giggle going on between us sisters. I began learning to speak like a proper Southerner, to much hilarity. My sisters are just a mess. See? What I did there? That’s Southern slang they taught me for cute or adorable! Now don’t get madder than a wet hen if you don’t understand, but later on, we ran into a guy in a store who was all hat and no cattle and backed away slowly. Those kids who were just knee-high to a grasshopper made fun of me too. My low carb diet was the butt of many a joke as well- especially when I got caught side eying some chilli fries. Not once, not twice, but something like four or five times, just watch.
T-shirts are not my thing, especially not matchy matchy slogany ones but, sigh, I conceded to Casandra’s masterplan and bore the ribbing I’m sure will never die down over my resistance.
Rhonda, Casandra, Shirley
Greyson, Nickolas, Bailey, Christin
Our first “make fun of Lisa” family lore- that and my funny accent! Creating a shared history throughout the trip was effortless and poignant.
Thanksgiving itself was spirited and warm. We ate too much, laughed all day long and just generally reveled in each other's company.
The night before, Ryan and I had rehearsed a couple of tunes in our hotel room. Happily, Gwen had bought her guitar along and I’d taught him the song I’d been working on for Mom. We worked out a couple of covers, he then sang a song of his for me and blew my mind. I recorded it, but you’re just gonna have to wait until his song and Shirley’s song are officially released, in the meantime though, here’s Ryan singing a song he wrote for his daughter- Bailey's Song...
At any rate, we had the best time singing together for the family. My favorite thing about this video is the look on my mom’s face at around minute1:37.
So that’s it in a nutshell. My first birth family face to face meet. First time meeting Rhonda, Casandra, and their families. First time decorating a Christmas tree with my mother. First time lying in a darkened room and feeling her breathe next to me. First time pajama party sharing confidences and laughter with them all. First teasing and laughing until we cried. First cuddles, kisses, hugs and mingled tears of an entirely different nature. First meals shopped, cooked, and eaten together. First forays into the world as a family.
There’s so much more to my visit that is not captured within these posts. The beautiful day I spent with Rhonda in Texas upon our return, the hours spent with Katherine and meeting her friend Cha (Cha, Ms. “Put me in your blog as that beautiful friend of your sister’s because you KNOW I am!") yup it’s true - she’s gorgeous...
Cha Davidson, Katherine
...endless conversations with Shirley about our ancestors, video chats with Miles and his husband Richard anchoring me when I was most overwhelmed, and many many other precious moments.
In the songs those days are inspiring- if I'm able to capture even a smidgen of the intensity and full out beauty of those days then I'll have done my job. Keep your eyes open for those and all the rest that is to come. Do sign up for my newsletter if you haven't already-I promise no bombarding of your inbox, just a happy little update from time to time.
Thank you, as always, for riding along with me. Stay tuned as the adventure continues…
Posts on the search for my birth family in chronological order here: