One year, I can’t quite remember when, but I was in elementary school, my dad planted about half an acre of blackeyed peas. It may not have been that much.. But it was at least a quarter acre. Why he did this I don’t know. I wish I could ask him. What we did with all these peas I couldn’t tell you. But I do remember my sister and I standing in that field with a hoe in our hand.
Maybe it was some sort of crazy punishment, planned well in advance. I don’t know. We’ve always lived in Riverside, but both my parents are from Roanoke. My Mom and her family moved there from Oklahoma when she was about 13. My Dad was born and raised in Roanoke and so was his father. His grandfather came as a young boy on a wagon from around Opelika, Alabama. His family had a falling out over religion, so they packed up the buggy and came to Texas. They never looked back and they never wrote back home. This was in the late 1800’s.
When I was 7 years old we took a trip to Alabama. My Dad remembered stories his grandfather had told him of his home. He had done some research, he had written letters. Now he was in search of “his people”. So we drove through Alabama. We went to battle sites. We visited grave sites and took pictures. Then we stopped over in Opelika. My Dad pulled out the phone book in the hotel room and decided to just start cold calling Mitchells. He called the first number, he explained to the man who he was, who his grandparents were, where he was from. The voice on the other end asked him “Where are you at boy?”
Soon someone showed up and we followed them to their house. Other local family members were called and it became a gathering. I thought they were rich because they had stacks and stacks of Coca-Cola. I remember that the Miss America Pageant was on TV. Funny enough they had all heard the story of the falling out and the move. They said that their parents and grandparents had often wondered what happened to the James Mitchell family that moved to Texas.
My Dad enjoyed that trip. He kept up with them for awhile. They were a little older than him and I guessed when they passed on the connection did too. My Dad was always interested in his family tree. He wrote letters to all kinds of places. He made connections with other people. He was actually able to trace our family tree back to before the revolutionary war. I’ve been on Ancestry.com and have found most of his research is valid. He would have loved Ancestry.com. I only wish I could find the book he had with the pictures he had gathered.
Now back to that pea field. I think his intentions that summer was for my sister and I to experience a little of what his childhood had been like. My great-uncle lived next to that pea patch and would tell us to put down those hoes and come in the house for a Dr. Pepper. It was always a hot Dr. Pepper poured over ice in a snuff glass. My grandparents didn’t live far from there and we would walk over there. My grandmother would fuss over us, fussing because we were hot and sweaty. My grandfather would smile.
My father created a memory for me that summer and a connection to an older generation in my past. I wish he was still here so I could sit with him at the computer and show him what I’ve found.