I was standing ankle deep in the foul smelling mud, covered in bits of hay, happier than I had been all year. Surrounded by family, friends, food, and mosquitoes of giant proportions, I was at home. As the murky water worked its way into my shoes and then socks, the scent of dirty rice and sound of deep southern blues ambushed my senses. I was in Tala Bena, Louisiana , where there is an annual family reunion, Pigfest, which my family faithfully attends each year. This past year was my first time, and I was shocked by the warmth and familiarity in it, and how welcome I was made to feel.
At Pigfest, I gained a little over five-hundred loving and eclectic family members; everyone is family there. I got out of the car from my twelve hour drive and was instantly swept up by what felt like long lost grandparents, the Fosters. The Fosters throw this celebration of family each year, and greet each of the guests with showers of kisses and tight hugs. I was hugged, kissed, patted, and fed by people I had never before met, all within the hour of my arrival.
Pigfest is named for the pigs that are slow-roasted in the massive outdoor kitchen, cooked in-between two chain-link fence gates, over a fire contained by giant slabs of metal, startlingly similar to the remnants of a dumpster. The rest of the kitchen is also comprised of recycled materials, most of them worn from use in Tala Bena restaurants. Each person or family attending Pigfest brings their best southern dish, and prepares it in the kitchen on the lawn, shaded by tress tangled with Christmas lights and kites long past their glory days. The kitchen is constantly bustling, full of mothers herding children and cooking authentic southern food. I gladly spent much of each day in this kitchen, learning and sampling each dish before the masses could devour them.
I spent the duration of Pigfest cooking in the kitchen, lying in the warm fall sun, sitting on hay bales eating my weight in home-cooked food, and listening to 90 year old blues guitarists, toting their instruments in plastic bags. At Pigfest, I discovered the true spirit of family. I gained new neighbors, friends, and family; I felt unconditionally loved for the first time. Spending a weekend not afraid of being judged, standing around bonfires with newfound, long-lost family, I knew I was living life the way it was meant to be lived.
Pigfest has taught me that family is about loving people for who they are, and accepting each person as they come. I will never forget my experience at Pigfest, or what it has taught me about family and the value of kinship.
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