Monday, September 05, 2011

Places in the Heart

For as long as I can recall, my mother's family has held a family reunion on the Saturday before Labor Day. Rather like salmon returning to the home waters, the offspring from the original grandparents return every year to a small community park in the Morrison's Cove area of Pennsylvania.

So, you can guess where we were this past Saturday. Not that I attend every year, I hasten to add--because we don't. It doesn't take me long to catch up with cousins with whom I have less and less in common as each year passes. Understandably, we have all moved on with our lives. The rough and tumble play of some 30 plus cousins is long past. In its place we find staid, solid folk with greying heads, aging bodies, aching knees, hips and backs. The annual softball game has long ceased

What remains is a fleeting contact, a chance to exchange hugs, eat some food, and then scatter once more.

This year, my husband asked one of the cousins who is older than I am if he could recall when the first such family reunion was. The cousin paused, and finally said that as long as he could recall, they had been holding the annual reunion.

Maybe this photo of my mother's family was taken at just such a reunion. All of my mother's brothers and sisters are there. Mother was one of eight children--from oldest to youngest they were: Ada, Paul, Andrew, Kathryn, Dorcas (my mother), Ezra (also called Fred), Mark and Davey. (My mother is the second one on the right, in the middle row, standing right behind her father.)

Now, the family tree has branched out. The first generation--my grandparents--are long gone. The second generation--the eight sibling--are also all gone. The third generation--me and all my cousins--are now in our autumnal or even winter years. Those of us that remain--that is. Because even in our generation, we have lost some to death. The fourth and fifth generation, as well as a sprinkling of sixth, are spread further and further apart. We no longer know each other by first names, much less which branch of the family we are attached to.

So, we gather, bringing our covered dishes.

We hold an auction of various items to help raise the money to pay for the pavilion in the local community park.

Some cousins, along with their sons or grandsons, get brave and give us a rendition of a song they have been practicing.

We bring cameras and take photos.

And we talk.

After we returned home, I kept thinking about my interaction with these cousins. Many of them grew up together. And I, along with my brother and sister, were miles away--in fact, an ocean away. When we returned home, we would make our way to my mother's home area--she loved it so--and we three alien siblings would be lost in a jumble of faces and names.

When my parents returned to mission work in southern Africa, I stayed here--in fact, in the Morrison's Cove area initially. I lived with Kathryn and her family. Her daughter and I spent a couple of years together--and made promises to be in each other's weddings--promises which we kept. We are not close now, but we share a common bond.

The thought occurred to me that what I hold in my heart are a multitude of memories of a time that is long past. Family members who are now dead still live in my memories. When I see cousins at the family reunion, I link them with their entire family. It makes for a constant bittersweet melange--a sense of what was, and what still is, bound up with joy at remembrance and sorrow at reality.

Places in the heart indeed.


Nance said...

There have always been family reunions in our family, too, until my parents' generation died out. With the changing definition of family, I wonder if that sweet old tradition will disappear. Glad you had one and glad you wrote about it!

Anvilcloud said...

At our family reunions, we can all fit in a Honda Civic.

NCmountainwoman said...

You cannot imagine how timely this post is. My father's family reunion is on the third Sunday in September. My mother's family reunion is on the fourth Sunday in September. Both parents came from very large families so I have tons of cousins. And now many of them have children, grandchildren, and a few of them have great grandchildren. It is much harder to find an excuse not to attend now that we are living in NC again.

Like you, I hold in my heart a multitude of memories...the fun we cousins always had while visiting our grandparents.

Anonymous said...

This is so very lovely. What a treasure of memories for all of you!

Everyone looks so normal...! Did my family get all the crazies?! :)

Peruby said...

We have our reunion the first Sunday in August. It is god-awful hot! We plan to have it on a Saturday next year and I hope to move it to a cooler month such as September.

Very nice tradition. I hope it can stay going strong for many years. Yours and mine. We just had our third annual. We are trying but it is dwindling.

Climenheise said...

I do miss being at the reunion. Only a few have worked out for us. But Labour Day weekend? Not likely! Our new students are coming in and the school frowns on senior faculty disappearing on taht weekend. Maybe when I retire -- if y'all are still at it.