carrollton in december, UWG fall graduation

On both sides of my family, there’s an eight-year gap of family members around my age. My amazing half-sister is eight years older, and I was the youngest for eight more years… until my first cousin Jonathan came along. My mom and I flew to Scotland shortly after he was born to see him, and I’ll always remember it was the first real interaction I had ever had with a baby. I felt like the coolest kid in the world when my aunt let me push his stroller (or pram, as the British call it) down the road when we went into town. I was so proud to be a big cousin and even at that young age, I immediately decided I wanted to be as big a part of his life as my sister was in mine. 

While he and his wonderful little sister were born in the U.K., their family of four decided to immigrate to the U.S. before they had started school and have been over here ever since. When they waited for paperwork to go through and for my uncle to go back to school in Florida for certifications, my aunt and two cousins actually lived with us for several months. It was the only time I’ve ever lived with other kids in the house and even though it could be a bit crazy, some of my fondest childhood memories come from that time. Those days seem like just yesterday, but somehow, already, our Jonathan graduated from the University of West Georgia with his Bachelor’s degree this past weekend. 

We booked hotel rooms weeks ago, my parents arranged flights and a rental car, my younger cousin hit pause on her own final’s crunch time, Eric and I packed up Ollie and two small suitcases, and we all headed to Carrollton to celebrate Jonathan and his accomplishment for the weekend. The drive wasn’t meant to be as long as most of our road trips usually are, but the rain on Friday was terrible and it felt like one of the hardest drives we’ve ever had to make. When we finally made it to town well after midnight, we drove through the Krystal drive-thru before literally crashing into a crappy motel bed. 

We tried to sleep in on Saturday morning and when I finally took Ollie out, my uncle (who I didn’t realize was staying at the same hotel as us) saw us as he was pulling out of the parking lot, drove up right behind us, and honked his horn. After jumping out of my skin and sharing a few choice words with him, we laughed and I told him we’d see him soon. My parents swung by to pick up Eric and I, we parked the car and rode a school transport bus to the UWG Coliseum, found the rest of our crew, and tried to get comfortable on the plastic bleachers while we listened to speakers share their life advice with the graduates. We gave a cheer when he walked across stage, and a few proud tears were shed. 

Graduates walking to their seats at UWG graduation

We met up with Jonathan after the ceremony for a few pictures and congratulations. 

Family at UWG graduation
Family at UWG graduation
Family at UWG graduation, Jess and Eric Pendergrass

The graduate had plans for the afternoon, so the seven of us called the closest steakhouse to put our name on the list. Eric and I swung back by the hotel so Ollie could stretch his legs again before we headed to dinner as a family. We settled into the big booth in the corner of the restaurant and ordered lots of food, a few drinks, and discussed what we wanted to do over the holiday break next week. 

Family after UWG graduation
Just missing our photographer, Dad

After dinner, a few of us were still feeling thirsty and decided to head over to the bar area of another restaurant. After we sat down, we realized the TV above the bar was playing the last 3:33 of the Georgia Southern bowl game (mine and Eric’s alma mater). We don’t often get to watch GS games from North Carolina, so it always feels like a treat to see it just playing on a TV somewhere. We all flipped our chairs around and watched with our fingers crossed we could pull ahead in the last minute. With two seconds left on the clock, our sophomore kicker made the winning field goal and we tried to stifle the cheers from our table. We sat around chatting for a while and a few drinks before my dad dropped us back off at our hotel for the night. 

Jess and Eric Pendergrass

My parents’ flight home wasn’t until the early afternoon Sunday, so we asked for a late checkout and met them for breakfast before we hit the road again. Luckily the drive was a lot sunnier and shorter than the one there, so I offered to take the driver’s seat and got lost in thought while the GPS led us home. 

I already miss my family but was very happy that all our goodbyes were “see you in just a few days!” That doesn’t happen for us anymore, so even if we’re tired and driving hours again all too soon, I feel very fortunate to have such a loving and supportive family (plus Eric’s and the other side of mine) to celebrate the holidays with next week. We’ve all been through a lot together and will inevitably have dark days in our futures, but family gives us a unique perspective and understanding that no one else is able to – because they’ve seen it all. They drive us crazy sometimes because that’s what people who love us do, but I wouldn’t trade our lot of nutty American-Brits for anything. 

A big congratulations again to Jonathan for his accomplishments. I hope wherever his life takes him, he’ll be successful and happy there, and that he’ll always remember the importance and value of coming to visit. 

And to the rest of our family, see you in a just a few days!! 

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