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Family Reunions

TALKING TO MYSELF: 5 August 2012  We're tired tonight, but our cup runneth over. Ernie and I attended the annual Green Reunion in Northern Kentucky at noon, and returned to Lexington in time for a birthday supper celebrating the 90th birthday of one of my Hudson clan, Cousin Emily McCaw. The moment seems right to re-visit an old "Georgia: On My Mind" column about why I love family reunions. 

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Family Reunions

I was born into a sprawling, indigenous to Kentucky, two-pronged clan, and each side of the family believes in reunions.   We believe in the Constitution of the United States, too, but we would probably find something good to say about an anarchist if he were faithful at showing up at our annual potluck.  In our view, attendance at these events is the cost of family membership, and the dues would be cheap at twice the price

 My father’s family has been gathering here and there on the first Sunday of August since about 1949.  No one knows for sure what year we first met, but most agree that it was “after the war” and on the front lawn of my grandparents’ farmhouse at the top of the Sparta hill.   Uncle Nevel, who turned 101 in December, recalls a few get-togethers with his cousins sometime in the 1930s.  Over around New Liberty, he thinks.  But since there was a lengthy gap during the war years, and before and after, he and I have decided we can rightly claim only a near sixty-year run. 

 This side of the family laughs a lot, and is fond of outdoor picnics and raucous games of Rook.  During one golden decade, from the mid-fifties to the mid-sixties, Cousin Raymond hosted the annual shebang at his generously sized cabin at Lake Williamstown.  He documented each of our get-togethers with his home movie camera.  Although we look jerky and stiff in those old films, our smiles live on in color. These are silent movies, but as I watch them, I can hear the excitement in our voices as we anticipate riding in Cousin Raymond’s grand motorboat.  The boldest among us will give water skiing a try.  And as always, the day will crescendo – after the Rook tournament ends - with a pick-up truckload of ice-cold watermelons. 

 We still view the Cousin Raymond era as the pinnacle of our reunion history.  After his death, though, we persevered, and one relative after another stepped forward to organize and lead us.  Now Uncle Nevel’s son, Bob, gathers us all to a park near Burlington.  He spends the day cooking bratwurst on the grill while yet another generation of children squeal and slide into a nearby muddy branch.  Bob’s counting on them to carry the family gatherings forward for another sixty years, I think, at least in memory.

 My mother’s people hold the record for longevity, though.  They’ve been meeting continuously on the Sunday before Labor Day since 1932.   Being meticulous and organized by temperament, they have the recorded minutes and labeled, cataloged photograph albums to prove it.   My mother, a child in bangs at that first reunion, grins at me across the decades from the squatting front row in the group picture.

 Sense of place is important to this side of the family, and being talkers and storytellers, the Hudsons are partial to meeting indoors.  Thus, for most of the past seventy-five years we’ve congregated at the old New Columbus schoolhouse in southeastern Owen County where our people are from.  Relatives routinely travel from all over the country for this to-do – from California, Louisiana, Missouri, Michigan – to eat fried chicken together in rural Kentucky, near Eagle Creek, the source of our family.  We elect officers to pull us through the decades, sing hymns together, exchange genealogy charts, and conduct lively silent auctions to pump up the family cemetery fund.

Of course, the food can’t be beat at these affairs.  Someone always brings “old” country ham or scalloped oysters and Aunt Rose’s corn spoonbread.  My Daddy’s people roast fresh unshucked ears of corn on the grill.  My mother’s are long on green beans picked from the garden yesterday and cooked southern style until they give up and die in a puddle of grease.  But reunions aren’t about food. 

 They also aren’t about extraordinary people – unless one believes as I do that ordinary Americans are extraordinary.  We’re out of work, on the move, on the way up, on the way down, getting sick, getting well, doing well, doing alright, getting born, getting to school, going after the American Dream --

 In the beginning, our reunions brought together somebody’s grandchildren.  Now the grandchildren are great-grandparents themselves, and we’ve forgotten exactly how we’re related.  Still, there’s no mistaking our common DNA.   Fair, freckled skin links many of us, and we have a statistically significant number of folks with red hair milling around in this “descended from Kentucky pioneers” crowd. The tie that binds us, though, is the shared journey through generations of time.  The family is our unique slant on history.

 Jim Henage, my cousin on Mother’s side, likes to quote my Daddy at reunion time.  “A man has to be about fifty years old before he can appreciate his family,” Daddy once told him.   Jim says he thought that remark was odd, even silly, when he first heard it.  He already loved his family, didn’t he? But when he turned fifty himself – well, Jim says he began to understand what Daddy meant. 

©Copyright Georgia Green Stamper