By Johnnie W. Lewis
Ever been to a reunion? Do you know how loud they can get? I know it depends on how many participate or attend, and it depends on whether the participants are male or female, and it depends on whether the reunion is held during the daytime or nighttime. AND it depends on whether or not the participants are KIN to each other or did they go to school/work together!
Every 4th of July we have a family reunion outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Have been having that reunion for more than 60 years. But now it’s held in a community center, so that no one has to clean house before or after all of the paper plates are burned. The faces have changed, even from one year to the next, some are added, some are lost. All of the “greatest generation” members of the family are gone now, so all that’s left are the latest young ones, so that those of us who were small children 60 years ago are now the white-haired ones who sit around gossiping while the young ones play bocce ball with four to six teams of four people each. The rules of that game require that you have all four people tossing their balls in the same direction, toward the pellino ball that was tossed out there at the beginning of the game. Someone will inevitably get their ball thrown in the wrong direction. Why? Just ‘cause they can!
The reunions began as a family get-together of descendants of my great-grandparents, who had 12 children, who survived out of 18. First, they were held at Mammy’s house then later at Aunt Betty’s house. Mammy only had 9 children, 5 of which lived in the area around her. So, there were cousins thrown in with the uncles and aunts, many of which made the greatest Liars’ Club in the country! I’m not exaggerating!
Uncle Hot could tell the most outlandish stories, about any topic! Everyone in the county knew that (his given name was Henry Jefferson Binkley) Hot Binkley was the greatest of story tellers. And some of them were outlandish, but with a modicum of truth, so no one ever knew when he was telling the truth or a lie. This capability, to enchant the masses, was well-demonstrated after Uncle Hot came back from World War II.
During the war, Uncle Hot had been a Gunner on a B-24 that was shot down over New Guinea. All of the crew survived because the plan landed in the treetops, but natives had to climb the trees to bring the crew members down out of the trees. The natives took care of their wounds and sent runners secretly to the Allies that the crew was in their village. Uncle Hot came home to tell of all of those natives having tails. Not tales, but TAILS! Little 2” to 6” extensions on their spines. The objects were tails that stuck out from the base of their spines and sometimes were long enough that they could be seen sticking out from under their breechcloths (the little animal-hide skirts that they wore around their waists). Uncle Hot came home telling about these “creatures” that had tails, and of course, everyone thought he was telling a wonderful “tale” that he made up. Until. In 1960, National Geographic took camera crews to the Philippines/New Guinea area to film remnants of battles from World War II…, and they showed videos of the people with tails that extended from under their breechcloths!! Uncle Hot told everyone he saw that the show was to be coming on. After the airing of the show, the people of the town laughed and told him, “Hot, we didn’t believe your stories because we thought you were exaggerating as you always do!”
We drove TB 1 (our RV) up to my brother’s house/yard outside of Nashville as this is our last “family connection” for a few months. Parking in someone’s grass is very different than parking in an RV park or in a WalMart/Cracker Barrel parking lot. The ground is softer and the tires sink deeper (especially after it rains heavily!), but we wanted to do that so we could be nearer to family for a few days, then hit the road “refreshed” and ready to travel. Fat chance! They live on a major highway through Cheatham County, on which every person in the northwest part of the county, and beyond, drives to Nashville. Sleeping next to this major artery is like a couple of the KOA campgrounds we’ve stayed in — chaotic and noisy! But the advantage of parking in Buddy’s yard is that every relative passes his house at some point, sees our RV, and stops to visit!
And then there’s food! BBQ, cakes, pies, every vegetable dish known to cooks…, and that’s just at the first house!! By the time we get to the community center, everyone is ready to eat again, talk for hours, and play bocce ball outside until the mosquitoes come out! Every problem known in the family, community, and nation gets solved (or at least discussed) and no topic is taboo. Every child, who by now is a great-great or great-great-great grandchild of the originators of the reunion, gets hugged and cuddled until they are tired of the hugging and ready to go home! And then there are the sports loyalties! With 5-7 states represented at every reunion, we’ve rigged it so that, if your college/state sports team beat another state represented there, we all wear that winner’s color! Sure do like wearing read and black as often as possible! Hehe!
Personally, I think everyone should have reunions, for whatever reason or excuse, if for no other reason than to remind one of the past…, good, bad, or otherwise!
Johnnie Wright Lewis, author of 46+ books, and her husband, Jimmy, travel the USA in their RV, stopping to see whatever they can. They met and married in Athens and with cousins and friends in the Athens area, including their beloved Bulldogs, they take every opportunity to come back to where they “started.” Follow them on Facebook at “Two Old Farts Traveling” and watch the many videos of their travels on YouTube under the same name. Look for Johnnie’s books on Amazon.com under the name of Johnnie W. Lewis.