Fourth of July weekend ended up being a surprise gathering of family I had never met before. I was invited out to a lake and then to a gathering at a cousin’s house in Lawton. Most of these people I had never met, members of my biological dad’s family. I went with an aunt and uncle seeing life in the rural areas around Kalamazoo. Every other street and farm had a story. Sitting outside of the market in Paw Paw was a conversation of who’s who as people walked out.
“didn’t you go to school with him?” my uncle would ask my cousin.
It’s a different culture in the country from what I grew up in. people stay friends long after high school. From what I have seen people don’t leave town and if they do it’s through the military and they come back. The parades are still a big part of their community gathering.
Out on the lake five of us take a pontoon boat out for sun bathing and fishing. The lake was filled with bass and blue gill. The combination of night crawlers and red worms helped me leave with a bucket of fish for dinner the next day.
While I snapped the worms in two and conserved what I had, as I usually do, one of the girls on the boat loaded a red worm on her hook. The ball of flesh appeared amusing and I wondered how well it would work. A minute later she was pulling a bass from the water and she still had the worm. The joke was on me.
After a few hours on the lake we went back to the cabin and my cousin took his potato gun out of the truck. Powered by spray on body spray we shot gulf balls out into the soy bean field. The woman who owns the cabin once lived on the farm. Her parents owned the land and the lake but were forced to sell lots on the lake to pay bills later. More victims of American capitalism, the family property was now speckled with houses and trailers. A boat in the middle of the lake played Brittney Spears, Nikki Minaj, and Elton John.
“hooligans,” the woman driving the pontoon boat said.
After the boat ride we drove to my cousins house in Lawton, whom I had never met before. She was two years older than me and had remembered hearing about me growing up. Her twin brothers on the other hand had no idea that I existed. The three of them work with my biological dad at their place of employment. They told me a few stories. The boys only had good things to say since they like the guy. I refrained from drinking trying to get a feel for the people and learned everyone’s quirks. The twins were plastered by the end of the night and were taken to an apartment down the street.
I went home realizing this was the first forth of July I had spent with family that didn’t involve drama or some kind of fight. There were laughs and giggles. Stories were shared of times gone by. The people sitting on that porch wanted to be around each other.
The next day I went to my dad’s trailer. A beautiful Sunday afternoon I wouldn’t be surprised if he was out riding his motorcycle through the country roads. I walked up to a dilapidated porch with steps that had rotted and broken over the years. A truck and minivan sat in the driveway but there was no answer at the door. I doubt he was home. I went back to the car and wrote a note inside leaving him contact information and other ways to reach me. I don’t know if he found the book.
That afternoon I was invited back out to my cousins place and enjoyed a relaxing evening on their deck meeting her longtime friends. The evening finished with a nerf gun war in their backyard.
I haven’t heard from my dad, don’t know if I will. The amount of family I have gained in the past few weeks has been shocking, not in a bad way. The difference in culture is something to adjust to. The notion that these people took me in with open arms is a comfort I did not expect.
There is a strange feeling seeing how the environment is such a large part of everyone’s life. Granted I can now look at Kalamazoo and have some connection with it. That connection is nothing like what these people have with the town of Paw Paw. Multiple generations are connected to this town and their immediate family live down the street from one another. They have a sense of community that I never experienced and it’s amazing.
I hope to learn more about this. The small town life might not be something suited for me but the fascination of it has grabbed my attention.
Matthew Gilman can be contacted on his author Facebook page and found on Twitter.