It is early – not even eight. The pale sun is already pouring through the trees, trying to dry out the deck from the night's storms. I hold my mug of coffee in both hands and tuck my feet up under me. I feel so peaceful, as I always do here. I look around me and smile. Brian's Hot Wheels are scattered all over the long, gray picnic table where we left them. The swing creaks as I move to put my feet on a nearby chair. This is my favorite spot in the whole world.
The house is in Hammond, just outside Baton Rouge. I never understood how beautiful Louisiana could be until I came here. I guess I can call this my family, although, technically I have no claim on them except incredible love and devotion. Someone I loved very much brought me into this family, and I am such a better person for it.
The house was built bit by bit through the years. I think every time I come, they have added something new. He built it all himself – top to bottom: frame, wiring, plumbing, roof, pannelling, cabinets, everything. I have never met a more amazing man.
My thoughts are interrupted by the sound of footsteps moving through the house. He appears with a sleepy Brian slung over one shoulder. He sits down near me with his grandson cradled in his lap. The boy peers at me through his rumpled hair and rubs his eyes. E.J.'s big, red hands stroke the boy's hair lovingly.
We chat about this and that – nothing really. Mostly we just sit. The porch envelops us; it wraps protectively around the side and back of the house, offering a place of communion. The swing is suspended from the rafters and sits next to the small refrigerator that houses the unending supply of beer and Cokes. Next to that is the barbecue pit – he made that, too. A few feet away, the roof of the porch ends, and the deck below is bathed in sunlight. The cat is lounging, giving himself his morning bath.
The sliding door opens, and Diane walks out of their bedroom, and slips into the hot tub. We listen to the orchestra of bubbles in the tub, acorns hitting the tin roof, wind in the cypress trees, and the neighbor's children playing with the dogs nearby. A truck roars into the driveway and E.J. yells at his nephew to slow the hell down. Preston joins us on the porch, and begins his vigil. He is on a mission: he's hoping to get a deer like his uncle had shot the previous morning. There is some argument about his hunting ability – good-natured jabs about masculinity, etc. The neighbors, Nina and Hollace wander over. Nina has in her possession, two 4-week-old puppies. Brian perks up considerably, wanting to hold the tiny furry creatures. Brian's mom comes home with her boyfriend in tow, and they are fussing at each other for something no one cares about.
And it's only 9:30 in the morning. The porch is full – people laughing, talking, arguing. Diane goes inside to start breakfast, and soon the smell of thick, meaty bacon, fresh biscuits and maple syrup for the pancakes begin to drift out to the porch. We bring all the food outside and greedily dig in. Tandy and Preston are comparing hang-overs. E.J. and Hollace discuss what they are going to barbecue at the bonfire that night, while Nina is trying to figure out what kind of drinks to fix. My mouth waters at the thought of backstrap and ribs that have been marinating all day. I am so completely intoxicated by the fresh morning air, and these people who are so unbelievably genuine and good. I have never been a part of anything like this before – is this what family is like?