My family tree is a forest. My one grandmother had ten siblings, and my other grandmother had twenty-three. Other. Siblings. Those siblings being grandparents by the time I came along means there were hundreds of us, right from the start of my life. Hordes. The families I got to know best were, of course, those who held summer reunions and Christmas parties. They also honored each other by hosting bridal showers, and showing up at weddings and funerals. In fact, it was my very own wedding that one of my great- uncles was last seen alive. A few days later, sadly, he passed away, and so the next event was a funeral. Everyone was glad they’d attended our wedding reception so they could remember him from just a few days before.
Feeling confident in a “tribe” can have a tremendous effect on a person. I not only enjoyed a profound sense of belonging, but it shaped and defined me as well. The last name happened to be Hart so, joke’s on me, that’s more like a Hart Hinge–!
Though the location of the family reunions moved from place to place, I think my favorite was at the Palmer’s house. Their yard was enormous, and it connected with yet another relative so we were free to roam over there as well. Kudos to my cousin Sherilyn for knowing virtually everyone’s name, and who they were married to, and whose children belonged to whom. No matter which person I ever-so-discreetly pointed out, Sher could tell me something. My sister and I always called one particular woman “Raquel” because she had The Look, you know? But Sherilyn knew her real name, and assured me if I ever accidentally called her “Raquel,” the woman would take it as a compliment.
Typically we’d all gather for lunch; every family providing their own. We could always count on having a Talent Show, as many of the twenty-four original “Hart” children were very musically gifted and loved to perform. They’d gather on a makeshift stage with their trombones and clarinets, relishing the opportunity to play together like they used to. I guess it would be called “Big Band Music.” The one exception was my great uncle who composed religious songs for piano, and seemed to prefer solo performances. Oh, and my grandmother who would get out on the dance floor and cha-cha away! And I well remember the feelings I had watching girls slightly older than me, sitting onstage swinging their legs as they sang, “These Boots Were Made for Walking.” It seemed so outrageously cool.
As nightfall would approach, we “preteen-and-younger” kids always looked forward to playing “No Bears Are Out Tonight, Daddy Shot ‘Em All Last Night.” I’m pretty sure the name of that game violates some law nowadays. Anyway, searching for hiding places in a strange, shadowy backyard held just the right amount of suspense for me. Whoever was IT never knew if we would slink into trees or jump out with an adrenalizing scream! We only saw some of these kids once a year, so we just took it for granted that we’d play “Bears” and not have to actually talk. Reunions are all about Interaction While Avoiding Awkward. Am I right??
We were strangers, but we were not. One Sunday afternoon, we drove over to the Palmer/Hart homes and knelt in a special prayer for some young soldier I’m certain I never met. My heart was tender, my mind confused, as my relatives talked about the boy who was MIA and they hoped he wasn’t a POW. Or maybe they hoped he was, because then he wouldn’t be dead. Or maybe he was a wall. A wall! I just couldn’t understand. The spirit of love overwhelmed me that day, and I worked in vain to wrap my head around their words. I just knew if something bad ever happened to me, there’d be a swarm of family who genuinely cared, and might encircle themselves in prayer over me.
Here’s my shout-out to planners of family reunions–! Trust me, it’s worth the trouble.