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Family Reunions Aren't Just For Funerals
When our “Big Mama” closed her eyes for the last time, it was a rude awakening for our family. Granted, she was nearing the century mark and we all knew that she wouldn’t be with us forever. But I guess we lived as if she would. She had dozens of grandchildren and great grandchildren, and she knew and loved us all in a unique way. She wasn’t perfect, but to her “grands,” she sure seemed to be. On just about any summer day at high noon, you could sit with her on the backyard swing and enjoy a bologna sandwich made with a heavy dose of mayonnaise, and sip sweet cherry Koolaid from a Mason jar. If you were lucky, you might even get a couple of those flower-shaped butter cookies for dessert; the kind they used to serve for snack at Bible School. These are the sorts of memories that never leave you, even if the person who created them is gone.
There were always special days that we shared as a family, such as Christmas, Thanksgiving and birthdays. Various family members would come together, bearing food and gifts and we’d enjoy one another’s company. But these were usually separate groups gathering with their immediate family members. It was a time to see how much the baby had grown, to meet a new family spouse, to learn what our college students were studying or to hand down a recipe. My mom would roll out her legendary “cat-faced” biscuits (not sure why she called them that, perhaps she imagined that if made just right, the indentations on top of the biscuits would resemble a feline). We would all eat more than our stomachs could hold and most of the adults would end up catching an afternoon nap wherever they sat. The snoring continued, even with the TV blaring and the children running in and out of house slamming the door. A couple of hours later, we would meet in the kitchen and the cycle would start all over again!
"Back Home" for a Day
On rare occasions we would round up our relatives in “town” and head for the “country.” We’d take Big Mama on the four-hour drive just outside of Abbeville, S.C. to visit her folks. She had 10 siblings and those who were living brought their children and grandchildren, making it a huge gathering. We’d get to know our cousins, aunts and uncles, play outdoor games, and eat the fresh meat and vegetables that they raised on their land. What a great experience to commune together and share stories about our ways of life. Big Mama loved having the chance to go “back home” for a day. I only have a limited memory of these get-togethers, which no doubt means we didn’t have nearly enough of them.
Don't Wait to Honor Ancestors
When Big Mama died, one month shy of her 96th birthday, the family members all came together to say their good-byes. While the funeral dressers did a beautiful job of presenting her for the farewell, she just didn’t look like the lady I remembered. Perhaps it was because the abundant life that always dwelled within her had flown away. Not long after her death, some of our family members wondered why we’d never planned an official family reunion as a way to honor our oldest relatives while they were alive. We wanted to connect the dots to be able to fully appreciate the portrait of our heritage, so that younger generations would understand where they came from and what it took to get here.
Our Spiritual Inspiration
Big Mama and her husband, Rev. C.A. (who died many years earlier) had six children who all lived in the same town. (We affectionately refer to their children as the “Six-Pack”.) Representatives of each Six-Pack member came together as a committee and decided to begin a family tradition of having an annual family reunion involving our relatives, friends church and community. We picked a date in the summer that we would come together to celebrate our ancestors. It would be a 3-day affair beginning on Friday with registration and a sizzling Fish Fry. On Saturday, we would have a rollicking Family Fun Day and pig roast Cook-Out at the state park. To round it off we would have a toe-tapping, hand-clapping Sunday worship service at the “home church,” followed by a dinner banquet in the church annex to honor the extraordinary people who brought us into the world. It would be a long overdue tribute; a small way to thank our parents and grandparents for all the sacrifices that they made for us. We were all anxious to get down to business, to make sure we could pull it off in a way that would make our relatives proud. While we all had regrets that our beloved Big Mama would never get to attend the first official reunion, we were uplifted by the fact that her loving spirit was the inspiration for it all.
Whats Your Family Experience?
Do you feel that you missed a special opportunity to make time for your family? Was there an event in your life that caused you or your relatives to organize a family gathering?
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