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Visiting family a tradition worth keeping

Though the importance of it was lost on me at the time, I spent most Sundays as a child visiting grandparents. And to be honest, I didn’t always enjoy it.

While my friends were riding bikes or playing ball or swimming, I was sitting in a stuffy den full of cousins and aunts and uncles. We would make the weekly 10-minute trip to my father’s parents’ house after lunch. When we’d finished up there, we would head to my mom’s parents’ home, the same house she grew up in. My sister, who lives on the family farm just a stone’s throw from that house, still follows that same routine some Sundays.

I usually fell asleep on the couch while everyone else watched a NASCAR race, especially if my grandmother had cooked lunch. Though the rolls were usually burned, her cooking was always satisfying and nap-inducing. I don’t remember eating a single brown-n-serve roll that wasn’t black on top.

Her tea cakes were another story. They always came out perfect, at least that’s how I remember them. For a 10-year-old boy, there was no better dessert than tea cakes with a cold Mountain Dew. Years later we tried to get her recipe but Alzheimer’s had already taken it.

I couldn’t understand then why my parents dragged my sister and I on those weekly visits. I’m sure I pitched a few fits when it was time to head to their house. But as I grew older and had children of my own, the light bulb came on. You don’t visit grandparents because it’s fun. Or convenient. Or easy. You visit grandparents — and great-grandparents — because they are family. That’s the only reason needed.

I had to remind my own children of that this week as we prepared to drive to Texas for a quick trip to visit my wife’s grandmother. She’s in poor health and so these visits have become more important.

But that means little to great-grandchildren who don’t really know her. Especially when the trip involves several hours cramped in a vehicle, a sleepless night in two hotel rooms (they don’t make a single hotel room big enough to hold all of us) and a return trip that’s usually more painful than the journey out there.

But we set off early Saturday with Groves, Texas as our destination. There’s no scenery worth looking at between Brookhaven and Groves. Just the monotony of Interstate 10 and the occasional swamp. Groves itself isn’t exactly a tourist destination. There are refineries, neighborhoods full of refinery workers and pipes leading to those refineries. And not much else.

Much of my wife’s extended family lives in the area, or at least in parts of East Texas. We usually see them at Christmas and sometimes during a summer visit. But we thought we better not wait until Christmas to see Granny this year. So we drove to the house where my mother-in-law grew up. The same house where the family watched as her father was tragically killed by a reckless driver. The same house that our old Lab was once dog-napped from.

It hadn’t changed much since the last time we were there.

We sat in a stuffy den that’s too small for all of us to sit comfortably. We talked loud enough for Granny to hear us. We reminded her of our children’s names and caught her up on our lives here in Mississippi.

Like my own grandmother, Granny struggles with Alzheimer’s. She likely won’t remember the details of our visit. She probably won’t remember our children’s names. Six months from now, she might even forget that we came. But for a couple days, she will know that her granddaughter and great-grandchildren loved her enough to visit. And that’s all that matters.

My children, hopefully, will remember the long drive out there and the boring hours spent sitting in her den. I hope they remember the house where their grandmother grew up. I hope they remember that we made family a priority. Even though they won’t understand now, the light bulb will come on one day.

Lord willing, I’ll live long enough to have grandchildren and great-grandchildren and I hope my children bring them for lunch on Sundays. I hope they remember that we made family a priority and they commit to doing the same — even if the conversation is boring, the rolls are burned and I forget their children’s names.

Publisher Luke Horton can be reached at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.