It is Sunday afternoon. For the past three weekends I have taken up my nomadic habits and traveled west to Livingston and Crittenden Counties, the home of my husband’s ancestors and present extended family. I say ancestors because there is not a town in that part of the country to which he cannot directly trace his lineage on either his mother’s or father’s side. We have often driven down roads named for one Croft or another, and he has told me how he is related to them and how they settled this area. For an only child, his family is impressively extensive.

Josh has lived in Livingston County Kentucky all his life, up until just a few years ago when he moved to Louisville and married me. He also spent some time in Florida and Nashville, and he has run the rodeo circuit a time or two, but his home base has always been Ledbetter and Salem, sometimes Paducah, and now Marion. Three of these four places are tiny towns, Paducah is much bigger, but even Paducah has a small town feel. It is definitely not a Chicago, or even Louisville.

It is almost strange ( in a pleasant way) to experience this system of deep, rich roots. I have felt like a tumble weed for so many years –  since I was nine. Even as a little girl in Florida we were constantly moving to new neighborhoods, towns, houses. I have been moving since I can remember. I never really had a problem with this. I’ve always been rather adventurous in the sense that I embraced every new place I found myself. Since I didn’t have many close friends, it didn’t bother me to leave them. Even now, as I drive on a really nice day in the spring or summer and I see the changing scenery outside my window, I get a little itch to just keep driving right past my destination. I am usually tempted to head west. The Western states continue to call my name softly, every so often, for despite everything I’ve been through out there over the years, my heart always wanders back at some point.

Aside from this periodic itch to wander, I am very pleased that I have finally started to put down roots. My parents have settled in a town only two hours away from where we live and Josh’s family is also two hours away, but in the opposite direction. We live right in the middle and this is nice. My daughter will have the comfort of family roots and that sense that no matter where she may wander in life, she will always be able to come home, and to the state she was born in.

These past three weekends of visitation were rather unplanned. Each one had a reason of its own, but they are always welcome, both by me and the family. It is always nice to find an excuse to drive out that way. I am extremely blessed that my in-laws love me as if I were blood relation and I love them the same way, every single one of them. We often laugh about Josh being an only child and having the larger number of people in his family than me, the second of eight. Perhaps I have just as much extended family as him, maybe even more, but my family on both my mother’s and father’s side are scattered quite literally to every edge of the country and all in between. Josh’s seems to be concentrated in one end of the state and that makes it seem bigger.

My parents and siblings.

New Jersey, Arizona, Nebraska, California – these are just a few places my relatives live, demonstrating the scattered-ness. I don’t even know half of them beyond their names, and I’ve never met some of them. Being the nostalgic person I am, you can only imagine how comfortable it is to have married into such a close family, geographically as well as their relationship bonds. 

Nanny (his maternal grandmother) is quite the matriarch. She is the oldest of three girls and everyone gathers at her house on Christmas Eve and other holidays, but always on Christmas Eve. Everybody in Salem knows Anna Sue Harmon, she is a bustling, jovial, sweet woman who looks at least ten years younger than the seventy-two that she is. She is very community oriented and an active member of the Salem Garden Club. She is your typical country grandmother, it doesn’t matter who you are, related or not, there is always some yummy morsel in her fridge and she won’t be satisfied until you’ve eaten some of it while you visit. Even if you’ve only stopped for a moment, you must at least try a cookie or have a glass of sweet tea.

Nanny’s sister Linda lives there in Salem, as well as Linda’s daughter Tina, and the youngest of the three, Janice, lives there too. They each settled with in a mile of where their parents lived and their own children didn’t go very far. The ones who don’t live in Salem are only a few miles away in Marion and Smithland and other tiny bumps on the map. It only makes sense to gather in this little town for all the holidays. When our daughter passed, it was only natural to bring her tiny casket to this place to rest next to other members of the family, including Nanny’s first husband and her third child Tanya, who lived only six hours after birth.

I have always felt welcome here. One of the first times I made the pilgrimage to Salem was 2006 for Thanksgiving. I believe we came a couple of weeks earlier one Sunday for church, but I remember Thanksgiving best. It was rather awkward because this was the second time I had ever met Josh’s mom and Grandmother, and the first time I had met his other family, and we had just announced our engagement. I know every one was very surprised. Josh had moved to Louisville in June, and now just a few ,short months later he was engaged to some girl they’d never met. I wasn’t even someone he’d known from highschool – I wasn’t even a Kentucky native. Nobody showed their surprise that day, I was accepted right in and treated like one of the family. I know everybody thought he was crazy, which is fine because I thought we were crazy, and my family thought we were crazy. We have all talked and laughed about those first impressions since then.

Josh and I were married the very next month on December 23, 2006. We spent our honeymoon in Paducah, his mom gave us her house to ourselves for the few days we were in. We had consolidated our honeymoon and the Christmas holiday. Again, it was rather awkward to meet most of his family for only the second time and we were now married.  Since it was all so sudden I had not had time to even think about Christmas gifts for anyone. I didn’t really know everybody and we were rather tight on finances. We had spent the little money we had on our wedding and still had to have the help of my parents and his to make that small affair happen. We had decided we weren’t even going to get each other gifts, we had gotten each other wedding rings, that was enough.

Our first Christmas at Nanny's.

I was truly surprised and humbled when I was presented with gifts that first Christmas. His family had given us cash at our wedding, and these gifts were totally unexpected. I remember feeling very bad because I had absolutely nothing to give anyone. Upon mumbling my apologies with a red face, I was assured that it was more than ok, they wouldn’t have expected it at all, but they couldn’t let me sit and watch everyone else open gifts and not include me. Since my family hadn’t celebrated Christmas for a very long time I tried to insist that it wouldn’t have bothered me at all, but it was no use, I was to open and enjoy my gifts. This is just the way it is, the hospitality and welcome is overwhelming at times.

It has been more than three years since that first Christmas. With every passing year I have more love for my husband’s family and they are now just my family. We’ve been through so much in so little time, we can’t help but be close-knit. Faith is perhaps the strongest fiber in this tapestry of love. She has brought more joy and smiles to every face, on both sides of the family tree. One of these last weekends, on Easter, I got a phone call at my mother-in-law’s where we were recovering from a vast meal of home-cooked, country goodness. The voice on the other end of the line (Linda) asked if we were still there and how long would we be in before going home to Bowling Green. I told her we would be there another couple of hours and she teasingly said “Well, we’re (Linda, Tina, and Tina’s daughter Sarah) coming by in a minute to see Faith, not you, just Faith.” I laughed and thought how nice it was that there are so many people who love my daughter.

Ah, roots! That’s what it all boils down to. I think we all long for them in one sense or another. Even the wandering souls like myself like to have a home base. Who doesn’t want to love and be loved? Those who say they don’t need love are the ones who want and need it the most. I’m very glad to have so many people who love me and my family. I’m glad that after years of wandering and searching I can settle down in one place and have not only my family, but my husband’s family to visit fairly often. I love that my daughter has all her grandparents in one state, close enough to see whenever we wish. Like her daddy, she is the only child in the house hold (at least for now) but she has so many cousins and aunts and uncles to love and be loved by.

I thank God for roots, for family – for love.