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The Family

Photo by Flickr user Johnny

Early morning. Belleville Avenue. That’s me in the kitchen, eating bacon by the handful, wearing a coat and tie.

I just got engaged. My future in-laws are throwing a brunch. My soon-to-be aunt, Catherine, cooked nearly fifty pounds of bacon for this shindig.

I even bought a new shirt for this brunch. Also: a coat, necktie, and new belt—one without a buckle.

“You can’t wear a BELT BUCKLE to an engagement party,” proclaimed my future-spouse. “People will think you’re a ‘neck. You need a DRESS belt.”

What could be dressier than a fella waltzing around, sporting a Beechnut buckle the size of a pie-plate?

It would never do.

Earlier that week, my wife carried me to JC Penny’s in Andalusia. She selected a skinny belt not fit for stroping a razor. And a fifty-dollar button-down with a shirt-tag reading: “wrinkle-free.”

I want my money back.

The doorbell rings. Folks in their Sunday best begin to arrive. I’ve never met these people before, I’m not sure they’ll like me. I am sick-to-my-stomach nervous about it because I have about as much sophistication as an empty mayonnaise jar.

Many guests are elderly. Lots of pastel colors. Strings of pearls. Floral hats.

An old woman hugs me. Then another. Then another. And I smell like lady’s perfume in a matter of milliseconds.

Someone invites me to church. Another invites me drinking. One fella invites me to do both.

Next: my future uncle. He’s a small Baptist man, with eyes that shine. He shakes my hand, tells me he loves me.

Then, I meet a fella with a prosthetic arm and a warm face. He hands me a silver dollar and winks. I still have that coin.

I meet ten Flossies, five Roberts, one Mary, two aunt Catherines, a Mary-Catherine, eleven Jims, nine hundred Jameses, the West Boys, a Ben, a Bob, a Bill, a Blake.

And one Bentley.

I meet aunts, cousins, childhood teachers, a pastor with perfect hair. Truck drivers, brick layers, and a beef jerky salesman.

By he end of the day, I’m on the sofa. My wife comes into the room and hands me a small gift-wrapped box. It’s heavy.

I unwrap it.

“What’s this?” I ask. But I can already tell what it is.

“It was my grandaddy’s belt buckle,” she says. “I thought you’d like this since you’re in my family now.”

Family.

As it happens, I’ve spent a long time not belonging to much family. My daddy was a union man, Mama worked at Chick-Fil-A.

I don’t know how, but I lost my confidence along the way. And nobody tells you that once you lose self-confidence you may never get it back.

But then, I also believe in second chances. More than I believe in anything else on this cotton-picking planet.

If you don’t…

Then it’s time you paid a visit to Brewton, Alabama.

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