About two years ago, my boyfriend BG received a strange letter from “Smith Family Reunion Headquarters.” Who were they, what did they stand for, and what did they want?
BG’s last name is not Smith. His dad, who also received a copy of the missive, vaguely recalled that the Smiths were some cousin’s uncle’s dog’s brother’s half-sister or some such thing. He’d never met them either, but here they were, sending an invite from out of the blue to come visit for the day at a church site in Spiro, Oklahoma. Although BG and his dad are both native Okies, he and his immediate family haven’t set foot there in at least 40 years. And lest anyone think I’m a hopeless snob, let me hasten to add that my dad was born in Ft. Smith, Arkansas – mere spitting distance from where BG’s dad originally hailed.
BG, being rather unsentimental, promptly discarded that year’s letter. The most memorable part, as I recall, was the entreaty to “bring a covered dish” to this apparent potluck get-together. BG and I imagined getting stopped by guards at JFK airport because of some bizarre concoction we’d tried to smuggle on to the plane. Plus which, we’re both hard-core New Yorkers: I was born in Queens, and BG has lived here for the most part since the summer of ’69. Why would we want to take a train (which would take days) or spend the money on airfare (not to mention the cost of preparing the covered dish) to visit a bunch of bowleggers* with dubious and obscure connections to the BG clan?
Last June, BG received the second such letter announcing that year’s annual reunion bash. Just for fun, I decided to deconstruct this one. Its overweening flaw seemed to be “too little information,” combined in part with the dreaded “too much information,” resulting in a generalized feeling of total bewilderment on the part of this hapless reader.
First and foremost, the letter (or more accurately, “The Smith Family Newsletter”) was so impersonal somehow in its generically folksy, familiar tone that one couldn’t help wondering what the writer could have been thinking — or not. Why, at the very least, wasn’t there a little sticky note attached saying: “BG – I’m Laura Nell Smith, your long lost second cousin thrice removed. I would love to see you at our annual bash.” Instead, Laura Nell assumed that her long-lost city slicker cuz somehow knew everyone involved from previous wild and wacky Okie wing dings.
Here is the newsletter. My comments are in brackets. All typos and other lapses in grammar, syntax, and common sense are reproduced verbatim. I think it adequately demonstrates why, even if we were, for some untold reason planning to swing by that neck of the woods, wild woodchucks couldn’t drag us to this meeting of the “Deliverance” clan — even if BG’s DNA is somehow remotely connected to his Gooberville “relatives.”
SMITH FAMILY NEWSLETTER
GREETINGS TO ALL FAMILY MEMBERS!
This is our reminder to come & gather as a family on July 16th. [Well, greetings yourself! And who the f*ck are you?]
Next month, that’s a Saturday morning, at the Spiro United Methodist Church, located at 109 East Broadway, as it has since 1920, we are hopeful that first time family we be joining this gathering or some that haven’t been this way in many years. [109 East Broadway -- isn't that in Chinatown? Oh, I guess not, since the return address on the envelope says Spiro, Oklahoma. What's wrong with us; aren't we psychic, seeing as we're family members and all?]
Staying connected is a great energizer. Do you need a little more “GET-UP-GO!” to your days? [Hey, babe -- you'd never make it as an Madison Avenue copywriter, ok? Don't even try the hard sell for this gathering of the aberrant.]
Sure it is a stretch & that is understood, but please try real hard, after all, there is food & great stories & lots of laughter & someone is really counting on seeing you, especially you! [What? The guest of honor? We had no idea! Well, let's see here: in order to partake of all this food & stories & laughter stuff, I'm figuring airfare & cab fare & hotel to some abject hole in the outskirts of Gomer Pyle-ville -- but hell, well worth it for one day in paradise!]
Who knows, you might learn something new or even meet a new cousin or several cousins, surely you get it by now!
YOU ARE NEEDED!
There will be a short business meeting before lunch. [See? That's why we should have attended last year. They would surely have had a business meeting then, letting us know that there would also be a business meeting this year, and doubtless explaining why a family reunion would require a business meeting - and maybe even provide some clue as to what sort of business they're into. Moonshine, perhaps?]
Bring your favorite thing to make & don’t worry about having a balanced meal, just come for the fun of it! [Favorite thing to make? Hmm..anything? Play-Doh sculptures of the NYC skyline? Cheap, and not hard to pack. Next!]
Someone will be at the church [The church? Who knew? Will they allow Jew-girls like me to attend?] by 9:00 AM or close to that time, at least. [Those country folk and their laid-back ways; so charming! I guess if they're late we'll just go chat with the pastor or something.] Jimmy & my home phone number is X XXX XXX XXXX [Sorry all; family only!].
We will have a “White Elephant” bingo & for those of you that want to bring the REAL thing, don’t, at least, not those live ones that make really BIG memories! [Ah, looks like they have that old BG family brand of dry humor down pat!] Just something from all stuff we collect that we really don’t want to pass on to the next generation or maybe you do, but without them knowing it is from YOU, so wrap it up & no one will even suspect you would ever possess any such item, the more unusual, the better. Bring one item per person. [That old triple-action mega-bong that's been gathering dust in the hall closet might be nice.]
Remember wonderful Glen’s “Award-Deserving” ice cream? [Ah, yes, wonderful old Glen...shame that he only had award-deserving ice cream. Couldn't he have had the award-winning ice cream and perhaps received an extra "White Elephant" memento?]
The table centerpieces will be photographs, older & some more recent. These are going to be door prizes [More giveaways!] Please sign in as you arrive & get a ticket for the drawing. [Sign in where? Is the reunion in the church? On the grounds outside? Oh, well, I love surprises. Details -- so anal!]
Don’t worry if you haven’t sent Judy a recipe. [Ah, good old Judy, cooking away in the old country kitchen...] Just bring one with you & some reason why it’s special to you. [Let's see, where did I put that recipe for homemade magic mushroom stew? I think that would be a big…um…hit.] These projects [huh?] require time to complete, but will be a treasure when they are all ready.
If you think I may have missed an invitation to someone you really want to see, call me, and please leave a message on the recorder, if you can’t speak to me directly. [Wow, so that's how it works! Goll-ee, those new-fangled recording devices sure are convenient.] I am not working these days which means I am home even less, go figure!
You all are invited to stay over Saturday night [Oh, how sweet! At least we'll save on the hotel bill] & visit our worship service the next morning. And should you be interested in doing that, I am listing the following overnight accomodations [Oh, f*uck. Thought we were gonna experience some down home family hospitality.] Both are less than 30 minutes from Spiro.
Guest House International (Ft. Smith)
Holiday Inn Express (Ft. Smith)
Please enter through the east side door facing parking lot.
Look for the church sign with “SMITH REUNION” [No map, no directions, no nothing? Ah, we'll find it. Let's book now!]
Lest anyone think I am a New York snob, well… I probably am. But from what BG and I have experienced, a lot of folks who live out of the city — even some as close by as Long Island or New Jersey — would sooner have knitting needles inserted in their eyes than set foot within the five bawdy boroughs of NYC.
Nevertheless, this year I plan to send out a big-ass invite to the whole BG extended clan to come on down and visit BG’s beautiful digs in the Bronx. If they bring their sleeping bags, they can save on hotels by camping out in the hallway with the crack heads. We’ll order up some Chinese or some real New York pizza, and I just know a good time will be had by all. But we’re keeping it simple: no raffles, no door prizes, no church services. The only thing they have to bring is themselves — and maybe a nice covered dish.
In BG family parlance, a bowlegger is a country bumpkin or otherwise out of touch rube.
Online, I affectionately refer to my boyfriend as BG, or Bowleg Guy. Despite having long ago earned his stripes as a real New Yorker by surviving the roughest possible periods in this city before the current “Renaissance,” BG still retains some of that wide-eyed down home country innocence that is part of his considerable charm.
Bowleg is also used to describe a certain herbal supplement, which is generally smoked or sometimes baked in brownies. Now THAT would have made for an interesting “covered dish” for the big Oklahoma blowout!