My great grandfather, Francis Asbury Williams, purchased a couple of thousand acres of land in the tiny town of Moreland, Georgia in the 1950’s so he could have a family farm. Moreland is about 40 miles SW of Atlanta, and at the time, was so remote as to have been in another state.
The farm served many purposes. My great grandfather was a Vice President of Kroger Grocery Stores and made enough money to land him in the then highest tax bracket (75%). The tax write-off from the land, the fun of attempting small scale farming, and the ability to hire one of his daughter’s sons to work the farm (and thus ensure his daughter’s well being) were all motivating factors. When Granddaddy Williams passed away in 1978, and Grandmother in 1979, the farm was divided amongst his four children. Margie got most of the land on the east, Polly on the west; Harriet got the land around her home, and my grandpa, Papa, John McLarty Williams Sr, got two big pastures and a gigantic wooded swamp.
Papa has given land on the farm to most of my cousins. The stipulation is that Papa will only sell you the land (for a $1 an acre) if you will build on it and live there. My grandparents have 3 children, 11 grandchildren (one died at birth), and 30 great grandchildren: Callie, Drew, Hannah, Hunter, Chandler, Stella, Megan, Amanda, Stephanie, Lauren, Seth, Cody, Troy, Hailey, Kent, Tiffany, Zachary, Lillian, Slater, David, Jonathan, Anna, Abigail, Spencer, Samantha, Courtney, Logan, Luke, Marley, and Jack!
Papa recently sold the big ole swamp to some fool for a song. Papa decided to use the money to fly everyone in the family (including a bunch of other extended family I didn’t mention) to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Jackson Hole is a resort town filled with all kinds of winter activities including elk feeding, snowmobiling, skiing, snowboarding, etc.
My family settled here because Brigham Young asked them to do so. They were all faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. One of them was a scout for Brigham Young on the initial party that came into the Salt Lake Valley. His name adorns the “This is the Place” monument. The names Henrie and Blair are on plaques adorning old historical monuments around this town. My grandmother, Nanny, lived here until she was 11 years old. Her family moved to California once they realized what a frozen wasteland this god-forsaken place is. When my grandmother moved to Ventura, CA she quit practicing the faith of her forefathers, those same ancestors that had sacrificed EVERYTHING for their faith.
Nanny drove a semi-truck during WWII. Papa was a torpedo bomber pilot. One day he decided to hitchhike. Nanny picked him up in her semi. They were married six weeks later. She was a single mom with a toddler and had never been married. My great grandfather frowned on Papa marrying Nanny. Papa put himself through Emory and Emory Law School by butchering meat at night. He became a very successful lawyer. At some point in the 1960s, the LDS Church caught up with Nanny and taught her two youngest children the Gospel. My Dad and my Aunt Connie were baptized. My aunt stuck with it and produced “my weird Mormon cousins.” My Dad didn’t stick with it. He put LDS on his dog tags in Vietnam, mostly to go sleep in church on Sundays during boot camp. All my life I remember the Mormons getting the courage to come over and visit my dad once a year. He’d send us kids upstairs and proceed to tell the “Mormons” that he didn’t need them coming by. One day in 1990, an elderly couple, Grant and Beverly Packer, showed up on the porch looking for my Dad. Elder Packer had Parkinson’s and was shaking like Katharine Hepburn in On Golden Pond. We let them in. My dad got back into church. I was baptized a short time later. Susanna followed a year later. My Mom was baptized while I was in Costa Rica, so was my cousin Carrie’s husband Mark and my grandfather….Papa.
Papa wanted to bring the entire family together and give us something fun to do. My cousins (myself included) have all drifted apart as time, marriage, and family have placed new constraints on us. The only exception to this is trend is the five families that live on “the farm” together. My cousins Blair, Marty, Jenny, Carrie, and my Aunt Connie have all built homes within sight of each other.
All of my family are Mormons, save my Aunt Sherry and her kids and grandkids. All of us. Susanna no longer practices. Jared doesn’t either, but he always says that he’ll “come back” someday. Everyone on the farm is Mormon, active Mormon.
I lived in Provo, Utah for five years while I got my bachelors and masters degrees. I hate the cold. I despise it. I loathe it. If I cannot wear shorts, I am not physically comfortable, or happy. I have been this way my entire life. The cold depresses me. Going out in the snow, etc. is not something that I relish or even enjoy. I have been there, done that. If I didn’t go skiing and such during my five years in Utah, reason would stand that I wouldn’t like it. I went snowmobiling once. That was enough for me.
Mardi Gras begins in New Orleans on January 6th every year. It begins twelve days after Christmas on the Feast of the Epiphany or Twelfth Night. Mardi Gras Day is exactly 40 days before Easter. In New Orleans, there are parades for the two weeks before Mardi Gras day. It is one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. I love the parades for their humor, sarcasm, wit, satire, throws, and being with good friends. My children love it. This is our last year of being able to go to every parade because I will graduate this year and will be taking a job somewhere else. Every Mardi Gras is different. Going one year and then going the next isn’t the same experience. I love Mardi Gras as much as I love Christmas. If I weren’t freezing my ass off right now I would be camping out on the neutral ground on St. Charles Avenue in preparation for the parades tomorrow. Tonight features two excellent parades, but tomorrow is the special day that everyone waits for. It is magical. The entire street is filled with people just trying to have a good time and enjoying themselves. It is indeed the Big Easy on that special day.
This trip was originally planned for two weeks ago. That would’ve worked much better in my schedule, not merely because of Mardi Gras, but also because I am right smack dab in the middle of on campus job interviews. When my flight lands back in NOLA on Wednesday night, I will be picking up a rental car and driving to Florence, Alabama the next morning for an interview at the University of North Alabama. Then next week I will be flying to South Carolina so I can visit Coker College in Hartsville, South Carolina. I have had a hell of a time arranging my visits because I had this big huge elephant of a Wyoming trip in the middle of my month. Not to mention that I cannot really work on my dissertation during these days because I couldn’t possibly have brought all of my materials here with me. With Mardi Gras, I could go work in the mornings and still have fun at night. Here, I am unable to work, because I am expected to be “doing stuff” with the family at all times.
And that’s just the thing. Aside from with my parents and sister, and the family reunion last night, I haven’t done anything with my family, and here’s why. They scheduled some of the big family events on the Sabbath Day, Sunday. Most of us are Mormon. We all know that spending money on the Sabbath is breaking it. We had some serious pressure on us to go and do things on Sunday. In this, the town where our Mormon ancestors struggled to eke out an existence, my little family was the only one out of all 70 of us that made it to church yesterday. Because my family is unwilling to break the Sabbath (interestingly, the sermon yesterday was on remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy) we have been excluded from the majority of activities.
I remember being on the famous “trip” with my cousins in 1983. My grandparents bought an RV and took most of us around the country that summer. I remember that my cousins wouldn’t swim on Sunday. I remember saying “look, I’m swimming, and nothing is happening to me.” Years later when I joined the church, their example of keeping the Sabbath holy stayed with me. It was a standard that I used to judge something I was considering doing against. Last night some of my cousins left their older children at the motel and went to the Cowboy Bar on the Sabbath. I hope that my family’s example registers with my cousins’ children.
If the purpose in bringing us all here was to bring us closer together as a family, then I think that it hasn’t worked for me. Maybe it has for other people, but I don’t feel any closer. Last night at the family reunion with all our Wyoming relatives, I witnessed both sides of the family launch racial insults against a poor Domino’s pizza guy that was late in delivering our 30 pizzas (which were bought on the Sabbath), merely because his name was Julio. It disgusted me. Hardly any of my Wyoming relatives are active members of the church anymore. My Georgia relatives have been making poor decisions this trip.
Teach, your children well. How might our ancestors feel about the faith and practices of their progeny? We all become forefathers by and by.
Everything wooded to the south and west of the arrow is "the swamp."