leaving home was a plague of forgotten things, such as: 1) ID card, 2) parking lot, 3) contacts. and so forth. when i finally left the house for the last time, it was 9.52am and i feared missing the shuttle completely, so it was happy-making when i pulled up in front of the cafe at 10.01am. though all attempts at packing light had failed and i was not particularly serene when i arrived. nevertheless, hustle and bustle sometimes works. i gave the cafe (what is its name?) the benefit of the doubt and succumbed to flaky pastries again. this time a bear claw. it was doughy, not flaky, and filled with lacklustre almond paste. the moral of this story, clearly, is: fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

at the end of an unexceptional day, we left for missouri in the depths of the night. my flight was at 12.35am, and andrew and john flew at midnight. we left, john and i, at 9.40pm, and all the way home he was nervous about being late. it was only when we arrived at 10.45pm (after stopping off the car at sma) that he relaxed visibly. the flight (i laid over in dallas fort worth) was both painful in tedium and wholly unremarkable. i woke up again at st louis lambert at 10.10am, with andrew, john, and john's dad waiting for me at the entrance. i sat up front in their grey-silver-brown chevy silverado with a cracked passenger side mirror and made minor commentary most of the way, and we stopped for a bit at a walmart supercenter. (john's mom called partway to report that she'd failed in her mission to procure some blue bell, john's favourite ice cream in all creation, from poplar bluff some 35 miles away, which made it imperative for us to stop to get gas and a consolatory soda.) i was very taken by the waxed concrete floors and said so, several times. meanwhile, john was out like a light, and andrew only slightly less so. we rolled through thick humidity and past the roadkill corpses of squirrels, rats, and armadillos -- ("now, how do you know about armadillos comin' from where you do?" "well, it's sitting right there. dead, of course." "yess. those things can break your nose if you scare 'em and they jump right up in your face." "for sure.") -- and hillsides and roadbanks overflowing with vegetation just past its deepest, most vigorous green. john's dad observed that the trees were looking a little tired -- john had sent us, a few weeks back, a satellite photograph of the entire area, a photograph remarkable primarily for being too bright and emerald green to possibly be true.

the temptation to fall asleep was strong, but i resisted long enough to watch us peel off the road out of piedmont and into the cole subdivision, under the bridge over the river and into the heart of this smallest piece of the family lands. jerry drove us into one of the fields to show us what used to be a baseball diamond, a shower facility, and a broken down concession stand. when we pulled into the driveway of the 2-storey house, two shaggy dogs of uncertain lineage and breeding burst forth and enveloped john in wet and canine affections. gabby had penetrating blue eyes and a territorial bent, kudzu had a curl of hair over his right eye, pointy, wispy ears, and short legs, and both were intimately bound to a sizeable collection of twigs and other lawn debris. i became inordinately fond of kudz and spent quite some time scratching behind his ears.

linda had cold cuts out and waiting and some of the smallest, sweetest yellow freestone peaches. in the window over the sink, a feeder drew hummingbirds in droves. when we'd eaten, it was to clearwater lake to show andrew and i the finer points of waterskiing. this involved long periods of laying out awkwardly in the water while connected tenuously to waterskis, interspersed with brief intervals of tremendous speed inevitably followed by dramatic wipeouts and water in eyes, ears, and nose. waterskiing is remarkably taxing for the abdominal muscles and the inner muscles of the arms that are so useful for such tasks as gripping and unscrewing the cap on a bottle of water. on the other hand, it is no chore to get your wind back while reclined in warm green waters looking out at the surrounding bowl of deep green trees. when john finally took to the skis, it was a relief to not watch bumbling fools rise and fall again and again, like clockwork. in any case, john skated about the mirror surface of the lake and buzzed a couple of powerboats before we collectively decided to head into the pontoon marina for some liquid refreshments and, for andrew and i, to knock lake water out of our ears. when we pulled in, there was a brief moment of quiet before everyone at the first row of tables realized that they were related to john. as it turns out, his cousins also had arrived -- children and their associates belonging to jan and gary whom we had earlier seen zipping madly about with his new yamaha jetski, a vehicle that leaves a massive wake and a delicate jet of water arcing into the air behind it. gary builds saltwater aquaria, and he and jan own a pet store in st louis. everyone caught up with everyone else, and i spent some time downing a couple of cold coronas and cannonballing into the blood-warm water with some toddlers from the next table over. when we finally headed out onto the water again, i got on the back of the jetski and went flying a couple times before we called it a day. needless to say, meanwhile, john was doing all sorts of marvellous things on his wakeboard.

even as the sun lowered in the sky, the air remained at a steady 85F, which is what made carrying three large bags of ice out of the piedmont wal-mart such an unlooked-for and unalloyed pleasure. piedmont has 1 stop light, 1 wal-mart, and 22 churches. the dogs were back in force when we got home, and large trays of burger patties and johnsonville brats were arrayed upon the kitchen counter. the car port was cleared and strewn with chairs and tables, and the grill emerged accompanied by a large bottle of lighter fluid. the burgers and brats tasted profoundly grilled. this is hard to describe -- the best i can do is say they tasted exactly as you might imagine burgers grilled in a thick haze of charcoal smoke to taste, in a good way. the next day, i snuck down repeatedly to the fridge where the leftovers sat in little ziplocs until there was just a single cold patty and half a brat left. eventually, enough people assembled to eat, and the night began as three clusters of people around three tables and, as the grill went from blazing coals to warm glowing embers, the clusters drifted together, became a single large, loose circle talking and laughing as fireflies glowed briefly in the brush by the river. maybe all large families are like this -- i know mine is: secrets that are lightly worn, a sense of complicity and comfort, imbalance, ordination, a language of shared history, and a feeling of change and loss briefly arrested when time is stolen away from the rest of the world to be spent together with others of your own kind.