Family Reunion: A Gathering of Loyalty and Love

Yesterday we had our Smith Family Reunion, Mama’s family that had eight children and twenty grandchildren. We were lucky that all but one of the eight– three daughters and five sons, lived in North Carolina and we saw them regularly when we were growing up. I have fond memories of Grandma Smith’s farm house bulging with adults sitting around talking and children running through the house, in the yard, and out to play in the hay of the large barn next to the pasture.

Early days of Smith Family Reunions at Grandma’s house

Back in those days, the women busied themselves in the kitchen, setting out the food then cleaning up the huge mess after the meal. The men congregated outside. After eating a large meal of delicious food, they’d take a walk down the road by the tobacco barns toward the pond, some wearing their fedora-styled hats, Daddy in his driving cap. He and others’ smoked cigars– but Uncle Ben preferred a pipe of sweet-smelling cherry tobacco. As a girl, I remember thinking, “Why do the men get to take a walk while the women are working in the kitchen?” It made me dread growing older when I would be one of those women; I always hated washing dishes!

Now, our gatherings are held on the farmland where I grew up, at my younger sister, Peggy’s house— which is part renovated Rosser family homestead that Daddy’s grandparents built in 1880, and part new additions. There’s still the flavor of Grandma Smith’s house with the adults pulling chairs in like circled wagons to talk under the carport, and Grandma Smith’s great-great grandchildren playing in the yard and fishing in the pond.

Cousin Cathy on left and Peggy on right in her kitchen

It takes more effort to gather these days as we’ve grown older and smaller in number. The two remaining aunts– Ann age 95 and Faye age 89 , wives of Uncle Joe and Uncle Ben, Mama’s beloved older and younger brothers– were able to be with us. Seeing those two ladies who are sweet and mentally sharp, having them in our midst, helped to ground us. We’ve benefitted from their love over so many years.

Aunt Faye gave me a hug and said, “You’ve gotten taller and I’ve gotten shorter. How did that happen?” We laughed and I marveled at my petite aunt who continues to amaze everyone, recovering from both hip and knee replacements within a year of each other, at record speed.

Aunt Faye with her grandsons (L to R) Ben and Charlie–a few years back–but she never ages!

We’re thankful that Aunt Ann is with us–especially since she’s been going through cancer treatment from the time of last year’s reunion. She’s always neatly dressed and doesn’t go out without her jewels– necklace, bracelets, rings–things she loves.


Charlie hugging his mom, Melanie, Aunt Ann and daughter, Laurie

Aunt Ann responded to my question about how she’s managing with her treatment.

“It’s been hard but I just thank God for each new day.”

Her Christian faith has always been important, carrying her through tough times. She’d had years of worrying about her son, my cousin Ron– who survived for eleven years after a liver transplant. He was six years older than me, had a huge sense of humor, and never treated me like an irritant when I was a kid. Years later as adults, he was a great support to me when I went through breast cancer treatment back in 2000. I trusted his wise counsel about how to handle adversity; he’d been through it.

Another cousin was there yesterday, who like Ron, I got to know as an adult. Eleven years older than me, Danny and I have taken regular hikes together for over ten years. He’s helped me through lots of things–like the older brother I’d always wanted. Danny’s wife, Jane had early-onset dementia and I watched him handle the challenges of that illness and that loss of his beloved. When I struggled with Mama’s changes from dementia, Danny understood. He’s also listened to my struggles with dating as a baby boomer and offered me his male perspective. Just like with my cousin Ron, no matter what Danny and I start talking about–no matter how serious the topic, we usually end up on some lighter note, laughing our way to a better ending.

(L-R) Jeffrey, Danny, Me, Melanie, Peggy, and Charlie

The hardest part of the reunion is not having enough time to have conversations with everyone. In the three hours we gathered before the rain poured down, I had the chance to talk with several of my female cousins in a little more depth. They’ve been supportive of me, always, and especially since my separation. They’re eager for an update on my dating adventures and are rooting for me. It feels so good to have them on my team.

Like the old days, we go from inside to out–watching the great-great grandchildren at play. My two grandsons are part of the group. Baker at 4 years old, pulled in a fish from the pond Daddy had dug when I was in first grade. What a delight that Baker’s now experiencing what I, and many others, have also experienced over the years.

Great Uncle Winslow helps to hold the jiggling fish. Baker seems a bit stunned with his catch!

My almost two-year-old grandson, Parks who’d been fussy most of the day, settled in with Lakgen (Ben’s wife) when she showed him how to enjoy his first tire swing. She’s a nanny and just has a way with little ones.

Like all families, we’ve had losses. Besides the aunts, uncles, and cousins we’ve lost through death, we’ve had a loss we don’t talk about; an uncle and his family stopped coming to this gathering some years ago. In a family of eight children, you’re going to have different allegiances, different relationships with siblings based on age, closeness in birth order, common interests, personality traits etc. There are going to be things that rub each other wrong, different ways of viewing things, falling out due to property divisions, differences in faith, politics, creed. There are things that happen over time that we couldn’t imagine when we were kids running about in the yard; that is life.

Our family’s not perfect; we struggle as do all families. But what those of us who gathered yesterday gave witness to was the value of love and loyalty over time. We are family, with shared blood, a family tree that has strong, deep roots. That’s worth maintaining whatever it takes. Whatever number remains, we’ll keep gathering to say, “We are the Smiths. Related by blood and connected by love.”

Thanks be to God who gave us another day, another time to gather!

Connie

8 thoughts on “Family Reunion: A Gathering of Loyalty and Love

  1. This is such a wonderful read. The family is what it is and the traditions will live forever. As with my family, each side with 13 siblings, the crowd got so big that we had to rent a hall to keep up altogether. It is nice that you all remained nearby the old homestead, to be able to make the reunion a true Family Gathering. Your Photos tied all things together and your composition is a true compliment. You have a family that all would enjoy being a member. Love and Blessing to you. John.

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    • Hey John,
      Thanks so much for reading and for your support.
      Yes, we’ve rented a hall in some previous years but as the crowd became smaller there was room at Peggy’s. We’ve enjoyed being in her home, on the Rosser farm so much. It was a special treat for me to have my grandsons play in the same way I used to.
      Wishing the best for you and your family, the extended network of those who share history– who are related by blood and connected by love.
      Connie

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Family is so important. It seems as though so many extended families are drifting apart. This was a wonderful recollection of your recent family reunion. I noticed Charlie. A very special part of the family. I very much can relate to such an amazing human being.

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    • Hey Diane,
      Thanks so much for reading and for commenting. Yes, it’s too easy to just let things drift apart as we get so caught up in our busy lives.
      Charlie is now eighteen and reminds us of the beauty in simple things–like his love for his dog, Marley. Charlie likes to hear Aunt Ann’s stories about the ‘old days’ when her husband, my Uncle Joe, was growing up. Evidently Ann listened to the family stories better than Joe, and even though she’s an in-law, she carries the history like an oldest child. Charlie’s mother, Melanie made plans at the reunion to take Charlie to Ann’s so she can tell him about the old days. So sweet.
      Wishing you and your extended family the best, Diane.
      Connie

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  3. Absolutely true and so much wisdom and insight into life. That was my first thought. My second is this. Everyone needs to read this post and reflect on how important family is. That led me to this thought. Would you pray about and consider expanding on “family” and perhaps write more on one of the most important issues in life.

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    • Hey Betty,
      Thanks so much for reading and for your gracious and supportive comments.
      Yes, I think we easily forget the importance of family–of connection and shared history, especially as we’re so busy in our modern world.
      You compliment me and challenge me with your prayer request. Certainly I will consider this as you’re wise and see things that I’m not always so aware of. I appreciate how you’ve always encouraged me and especially over recent years with my writing.
      Love you,
      Connie

      Like

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