Unlike Angela, I have never been good at staying close to my family. For me, time slips away so quickly. The amount of time since I last saw some treasured family member is always far greater than it should be. In the case of some, like my favorite Uncle Ed, it is distance. Uncle Ed lived in Monroe, Louisiana, and I was too young to go down myself to visit. I finally lost all my chances. He died when I was 15.
My own father was only two hours away. I was more than old enough to go own my own. But I still didn’t visit. Dad had remarried, and he had stepchildren and new grandchildren to spoil. I didn’t resent him his new life. I just didn’t feel like I fit in any more. He barely had a chance to meet Angela and Patric before he was gone.
The person who helped me to change my ways, at least a bit, was my Aunt Rose, my Uncle Ed’s wife. She recognized that the family was not as close as it could be, and one of her final requests was that the brothers, my dad and the other three surviving ones, would make more of an effort to be close.
And thus was born the uncle’s lunch. Uncle Ed’s daughter Rose Marie stepped up to take his place, and she and her four uncles began having lunch once a month, with each one taking turns to choose the location for lunch or to host it at their home. After my father died, the family came to me. It was time for me to take up my father’s mantle, for his month at least.
Now, with a few exceptions, we have met with my uncles, aunts, and cousin monthly for over a year. My uncles and cousin tend to pick simple places, from the blah Barnhill’s to the passable Ryan’s and Olive Garden. Uncle James and Aunt Joyce hosted at their home once, with a cranberry chicken that Patric loved and my grandmother’s spice cake that everyone begs her to make. My uncle Ken hosted with barbecue from Interstate and desserts from Schnucks, but with my grandmother’s cheese and spaghetti. My cousin Rose Marie made lasagna, but we missed that one because we were at the Southern Foodways Symposium — no lasagna, but at least we had moonshine to comfort us.
We have tried to mix things up a bit when it is our turn. Our first lunch was at the Tennessean in Collierville. We hosted dinner at our house. Angela’s dad smoked a brisket and a pork shoulder. We made brown-butter sage sweet potatoes and sauteed green beans for sides, and Patric made a Mexican chocolate cheesecake for dessert. He’s not allowed back at Rose Marie’s if he doesn’t bring a cheesecake.
For our next turn, we are taking everyone to Jackson, Tennessee, for the buffet at the Old Country Store. We’ll talk more about those fine folks soon. After us comes Uncle Ken. He is taking us all to my dad’s favorite place, Ron’s Catfish Buffet in Jonesboro, Arkansas. After lunch, we will visit my father’s grave to remind him that we haven’t forgotten even though I think he and Uncle Ed are always with us.
Still, maybe I should take a glass of sweet tea to pour one out for my dad.