But then I got to I-10.
It was as if I were a little twig floating down a small twisting creek, meandering through small, slow pools, but always moving forward, down stream to the river. The river was I-10. Its current was swift, the space between its banks broad, and the debris that floated on its surface of various sizes, shapes and colors. Into its main stream I swirled and for the next three hours flowed at the steady speed of 81 miles per hour. For the final leg of the trip I returned to a meandering creek. I threw myself into another smaller stream by traveling down US-17 through Green Cove Springs, over the Mighty St. Johns River and then on to St. Augustine.
The quick trip takes a little less than five hours; today mine took six and a half and I am better for it.
The near 72 hours in Dothan were not near enough, and yet were full; no minute was wasted. Aside from the time spent with the traditional Thanksgiving rituals of cooking and feasting, there was continual giving of thanks.
The Kelley-Williamson Family is rich in its heritage and strong of character, and I never grow tired of hearing its stories. Some are near legendary bordering on myth because of the amazing characters, others are like parables for their casts are mortal men and women learning great lessons. Each story through, no matter the moral or the outcome, is more interesting to me than any literature because each is filled with my family. Those stories are filled with those who are me.
Some stories I know well and hear many times and enjoy the retelling; others are told to me for the first time; still others delve into the who behind each and every what, giving me insight into another time, another culture, and yet are familiar because the characters have my name; they are my tribe.
When I hear the stories of the late 19th century and early 20th century agriculture culture of Southeast Alabama, of the development of Dothan as a commercial center, of the slow pace of the life, of the hard times of every household, of the tragedies overcome by the victories in spirit, and when I hear the names of these pioneers, the Kelleys, Mullins, Williamsons, and Burdeshaws, it seems as if that world is my own Old Country from which my parents emigrated, not by steam ship over an ocean, but by love of each other and shared hard work over time.
It is where I came from and I am proud of it all and want to know it all.
Perhaps I feel if I know all that was before me I will better know me, but mostly I think I embrace it because it is my story. It is not written down; it is not public. It is oral, and depends on the retelling by one generation to the next.
When I got back on the island, I spent the first few hours sitting on my porch, enjoying the cool air of the November Florida dusk, allowing the words and images of the recent days to wash over me. There were no particular thoughts; no time spent recounting specific moments or conversations. There was simply a need to stave off the reentry for a few more minutes, and to relish the time spent touching my parents, touching my past, reacquainting myself with myself, of giving thanks.