I had a sudden wonderful memory the other day. I smiled to myself just recalling that delightful day in my life. I’ve no one to share it with, so I suppose it belongs here.
Daddy used to love going to our family reunions in Kentucky every summer. I looked forward to it because it was time with my dad, time free from my mother, and time with extended family who were friendly and loving to me. His family is from way out in the hills of eastern Kentucky; a tiny little town called Hyden, where most everyone in the town is related by either blood or marriage. So, the family reunion was like a holiday for that little town as most everyone who lived there attended.
I think I was maybe 10 this particular year. It was an especially wild reunion this year, it seemed to me from a child’s eyes who didn’t get out in the world much living as a virtual prisoner at my mother’s. The reunion lasted around 3 days in various forms with the big shindig on Saturday night.
The first day we arrived, I went wading in little creeks and stomping through the woods with various cousins and kin related to me in ways I didn’t know around my age. We crossed an ancient swinging bridge and I remember being terrified to cross it! It was so high up and rickety and swayed. I was so terrified, I crawled across through the middle part where it was most swingy-y!
We made it across though, then climbed down that mountain and splashed around in that icy cold creek below the bridge. The water was so clear, crisp and cold on that steamy summer day. It felt especially great after huffing down the rocky mountain and the sweaty terror I’d had crossing that swinging bridge! I remember my dad ducking his head under and coming up shaking the drops off laughing with delight almost like a little boy.
I remember watching him laugh that big belly laugh, shaking off the droplets of water, and giggling out loud at my dad while thinking I had the happiest, kindest, most fun and loving, greatest daddy in the world! I was absolutely certain no one’s father could ever be as amazing as mine and there was nothing anyone in the whole wide world could have said that might have ever convinced me otherwise.
The next day was the big old party! There was so much delicious food- deviled eggs, fried chicken, potato salad, coleslaw, fish, hamburgers, hot dogs, and every kind a pie table that went for miles. I ate nonstop all day. The older boys and men played horseshoes in the field, drinking beer while the women mostly cooked, talked, and organized everything, and the younger kids like me just ran wild in the fields playing tag, investigating interesting bugs, just being as free and delighted in the simple things of this world as kids often are.
One distant cousin lady there that year had a brand new baby, as tiny as a doll. I was torn all day long between playing like a hooligan with the kids, standing around the horseshoes with my dad, and holding that little baby. I wanted to do all three all at one time and didn’t want to miss a second of any one of those delights.
When it got dark, there was a band that played. It even had a fiddler and a guy picking a banjo! Everyone danced and the band called for a dance contest. I watched this with particular interest because I had only danced to records alone in the downstairs of my mother’s house. I’d never seen so many people dancing in my life! I wanted to watch and learn how to actually dance. My amazing dad won the dance contest and they gave him a family reunion t-shirt that said he was the best dancer or something. I was so excited when he handed it to me and said I could wear it! I put it on over my shorts and tank top, like a nightgown, and wore it with pride at having the best daddy who I was now certain was also the best dancer in the world on top of all other matters of excellence my dad was!
After the dance contest, wearing my dad’s trophy t-shirt, it was getting dark and I asked the woman with that little baby if I could hold her again. The baby was tired and fussy and I could tell her momma needed a break. I took the little doll outside the big noisy room onto the porch and rocked her while singing Rock-a-bye Baby, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and all other little songs I thought would soothe and comfort a tiny baby. I sang all the songs I sang to my doll at home, but this time to a real live teeny little baby!
She fell sound asleep in my arms almost instantly and I couldn’t stop just staring at her tiny little mouth, her delicate eyelashes, her miniature fingers, and her soft little curls. I fell madly in love with this precious little creature! I never ever wanted to put her down! This was the first time I’d ever held an infant all by myself before with no grown-ups even watching me, like they trusted me with this perfect tiny little human being. I felt so much love and joy in those hours, I could hardly stand it. I didn’t even care that I was missing the party or was away from my dad all alone outside.
She made little sounds as she slept and I was fascinated. Her name was Lexi and I was so sure she was the most beautiful living thing in this world, I vowed that night as I rocked her and watched her sleeping to name my child after her someday because I knew there could be no more precious or perfect baby in the world as this one except the one I would have someday just like her.
We had to make that long drive home the next day and I talked to my daddy about Lexi the whole way home. I told him how perfect she was, how much I loved her, how much I missed her already, and that some day, when I was a momma, I would have a Lexi just as perfect. A baby Lexi just like her, only my very own, who I would never have to let go of and would get to rock to sleep every night, not just one perfect hot summer night in Kentucky. And I knew all my days would be perfect then- when I was a grown-up who could love and adore my own Lexi forever.
My daddy laughed at how smitten I was that day driving home from Kentucky, but 13 years later when I had a little girl, he knew before I told him even what her name would be.
And so it was.