Define family.

Say it out loud. Feel the triple-jump motion your mouth makes.

Remember that this word is not an abstract idea; it is not a synonym for blood.

Makayla works as a cook at Dickenson County’s center. Volunteers are building a back porch at her home surrounded by just about every pet you could own. Chickens, goats, turkeys, cats, a duck, you name it. Around the yard, her children run around the volunteers, who are all either petting or gawking at the animal closest to them. It seems like there’s a photo-op with Makayla’s kittens every ten minutes. They’re only a couple of weeks old and have that wide-eyed stare that all newborn things do. Her home is a farm in the idyllic sense of the word, where everyone is together in an atmosphere that is easy and pure, and a simple smile can stand in for conversation.

Anthony, a homeowner, sits at a picnic table with me for a brief chat about the weather and other niceties. Volunteers are hard at work across the yard building a ramp for him. The whole time we spoke, we were turned towards them and watching their progress. When I asked him how he felt about the volunteers, he let loose a little chuckle. The sun was making a heat haze in the distance between us, and he spoke slowly, “Bonds like this don’t give. You know that.”

Kelly works at the hardware store. ASP is building her front and back porches and repairing the band joists on her home. Almost every day, the staff sees her when they buy materials for this project. When we walk in, she calls out hellooo to Parker, an ASP staffer. She’s sweet on him. She feigns anger at him for not coming to see her more often, and we’re all smiling and chatting around her kiosk. We move over to the hat rack behind her and start trying on the biggest ones. Kelly points Parker to the most absurd Hawaiian cowboy hat, saying, oh, that’s the one, and with his overalls, it all fits together in a ridiculous way. All he’d need was a piece of hay between his teeth. I take a picture of him and laugh a deep laugh, and all is light and good.

In my last few hours in the county, I drove back to Anthony’s site. Fred, the group leader there, had spent all morning smoking racks of ribs and promised me a plate. Just the smell takes the words away from everyone. Even when we get our plates, no one talks much because the food is that good. The rub stains our fingers and lips, and we’re all a little sweaty and tired, but the slow nods tell me that there’s no place anyone here would rather be. And I can’t stop thinking about Fred and Kelly and Makayla and Anthony and how our lives get all tangled together like a cat’s cradle in God’s hands, how the web of it all can be so beautiful that I’m left awestruck.

Week after week.

County after county.

Family after family.

Addison Pozzi
Story Gathering Intern