Growing up, we always spent our summer vacations with my mother’s extended family in South Carolina. We would head north in our un-airconditioned car from Key West, the three of us kids squabbling in the backseat, my mother constantly trying to keep us from killing each other, and my dad at the wheel, clinching his jaw and patiently pressing on.
After an overnight stay with my paternal grandmother in North Florida, we would roll in to Spartanburg the next day to spend a week or so with aunts, uncles, and cousins – interesting characters that fascinate me even now: the snuff-dipping aunt and her ubiquitous spit cup, the uncle who sang “shaped notes” with the men’s quartet and insisted there was a goat under the house, the eccentric aunt who pretended to read palms, and the gruff uncle who we thought was the luckiest man on the planet because he had a plow horse named Molly.
One of my ancient aunts measured how much we loved her by the volume of food we could stuff in our faces at meal time: “Eat! Eat!” (Those of you from the South will recognize that as a specific love language.) I once ate an entire cantaloupe at lunch just to please her.
I was thrilled when one Sunday, some of the older aunts and second cousins pulled out pictures of my mother as a girl about the age I was at that time. In a flurry of excitement, they declared that I looked “just like her” when she was young and they dubbed me “Little Ernie”. (My mother’s name – which I don’t think she ever liked – was Ernestine.) Continue reading They Called Me “Little Ernie”