Thursday, June 19, 2008

What 'Cha Fixin'

"Reunion time is coming! The third weekend in July is fast approaching. What are you going to fix? Where are you going to stay?"

We'd met there every year now for over seventy-five years. Our forebears had helped to build that church over two hundred years ago, so it seemed fitting to help the church build a nice picnic shelter on the grounds to accommodate not only our reunion, but several others held there each summer.

This special day commemorated a clan of Coxes that traced their lineage back to 1716 when Solomon Cox migrated to Delaware, was excommunicated from the Quaker Church, then moved and settled in southwest Virginia. Folks traveled over 3,000 miles to attend the event. With six aunts, along with their spouses and kids, Grandma's house would be spilling over! Some aunts lived in the area and graciously offered their homes for the out of towners, like my family.

Coming to grandma's on Saturday was paramount though, as we all chipped in to do the special chores particular to that weekend. Grandma would have raided the flower beds and shrubs on Friday and have buckets of flowers in water just waiting for eager hands. We older girls had the joy of creating beautiful baskets of cosmos, peonies, irises, old fashioned roses, mixed with Queen Anne's lace, black eyed Susans, and chicory from the roadside. After dinner we'd all pile into cars and gingerly hold our baskets, during our pilgrimage to the family cemetery down the lane. Grandma faithfully made decorating these special graves an important family ritual. There were Great Grandma and Grandpa Blairs’, Grandma's sisters’, the greats on Granddaddy's side, and my own dear Uncle Jim's graves to consider.

There will always be a very fond spot in my heart for that lovely, old cemetery. Each year, more and more of the old-timers who made the reunion special, who held leadership positions, who sacrificed time and resources to keep the reunion going had found their resting place there.

After the graveyard run we'd all disperse to various homes to visit and share in each others lives. Grandma always made an early night of it in preparation for the big day.

And then it was Sunday. Church services were shortened, but there'd be the old glorious hymns from the Cokesbury hymnal. The tunes wafted out the open windows to serenade the folks who traveled in just for the day. Homemade tables were straining against the weight of myriad salads, fried chicken, fresh cooked vegetables from prolific country gardens, and the most delectable desserts one could ever imagine. Once the grace was given and the food line began, the whole climate of the day was swallowed up in the unrelenting attitude of savoring the delightful dishes prepared by "the best dog-gone cooks of the county!" Uncle Gib would always declare, "heaven is missing its ambrosia today, because this is the food of the gods!"

At two o'clock the business meeting and necrology service drew folks back into the open church, and then it was over until next year. Our families would reconvene at grandma's to consume leftovers before returning to their respective homes.


Being an only child, I’ve always relied on the camaraderie of the scads of cousins and the support of favored aunts and uncles who would pile in at Grandma's on the third Sunday in July. But now grandma and grandpa are gone. I figured it'd turn out this way, for they had been the glue that held the family together. I'm the oldest cousin, daughter of the oldest sister. Mom embraces that same old fashioned responsibility to be there at the reunion come what may, to support the few who continue to go. Gone are so many patriarchs. Gone are the great cooks. Now fast food boxes litter the tables. Mostly there are just a faded few who show up, trying to reignite the flame. It saddens me that folks are too busy to take time to look back, reminisce, and uphold the values of family heritage that used to mean so much. My cousins are really spread out now living in various states across the country with their families and I'm sure they treasure the golden memories of a bygone time. You certainly can't relive the past, but as memories fade and attitudes change I'm not so sure that people are better for their many losses due to the demise of the traditional family reunion.

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