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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!