During the summer of 2009, my family and I embarked on a memorable trip to Texas. My mom lived there until 1978, when my grandparents decided to relocate their family of four to South Carolina. My mom had many family members who still lived there, and it had been a while since the Carolina-born generation had been down for a visit. It was a two-day drive, and so, armed with hours of entertainment on our iPods, we departed at 6:30 on a Saturday morning in July. We caravanned in two vehicles. My cousin Abby and I took the SUV with my mom and Grandma, and the boys rode with Grandpa and Uncle Brian in the truck.
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Approximately twelve hours into our trip, we found ourselves in Louisiana. Accordingly, we stopped for dinner at a popular Cajun restaurant called Prejean’s. There we enjoyed a flavorful meal and taught Abby that “cajun” is not merely a seasoning. Afterward, we spent the night in hotel and continued our journey the next morning. When we eventually arrived in Brenham, where we were staying with Aunt Sandy for the week, it was after dark. She came out in her pajamas, greeted us warmly, and got us all into comfortable beds before going back to sleep herself.
The next morning, we left for Gruene, a small town that is home to a one hundred year old dance hall and a traditional general store with an ice cream shop inside. Walking through the quaint little town felt like taking a deep breath and watching the clock slow to a stop. Inside the dance hall, boots scuffed as couples danced to honky-tonk tunes. I stood back and watched, laughing, as my grandpa pulled my grandma onto the dance floor and spun her around a time or two.
Gristmill River Restaurant and Bar was our second stop on our trip to Gruene. There we met my grandma’s best friend from kindergarten and enjoyed a fantastic meal. The country-fried steak was the most popular menu item among our group. The restaurant itself was a beautifully unique structure, a cotton gin from 1870 that, on nice nights, is opened to the warm summer air.
We spent the next day with my great grandmother in Brenham. Her home, with its adorably dated kitchen and pink bathroom, hadn’t changed a bit since I had last seen it ten years earlier. Fortunately for the youngest of us, neither had her sugar cookies. She was waiting with a plate of them when we stepped through the door.
Toward the end of the week, we visited the original Blue Bell creamery. Blue Bell ice cream has always been as much a family tradition as Great Grandma’s cookies, even when it couldn’t be purchased locally. We took a very interesting tour through the production facility, and, of course, enjoyed a sample of their delicious ice cream. And before we left, everyone found a little something to take home as a souvenir in the country store.
Even after sweating gallons at a time and suffering from an inability to make group decisions, we were all slightly reluctant to leave. The memories that we shared on this family trip are still fresh in our minds, and we still laugh about many of the interesting things we encountered. We all gained a new appreciation for the time we spend together, even if it often requires a little patience. And in the same way that “cajun” describes far more than just a combination of spices, “family” is more than just a group of people. To me, “family” is laughter, frustration, love, quality time, tradition, and sugar cookies.
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