A little over 40 years ago, my great-grandmother, Granny Hooker passed away. During her life, her family used to get together on occasion for reunions, though there was nothing official. My grandfather was in the U.S. Army and served in such far away places as Paraguay and Germany, so often times the reunions would be when he, my grandmother and my mother were home for a visit. However, when Granny passed away, the family was concnerned that the connection and tradition she had started would pass away as the years passed by.
In order to avoid this, the family agreed to gather together once a year, around the first full weekend in August for a family reunion. The first one took place 40 summers ago and this weekend, 76 members of my mom's side of the family gathered togehter for our annual two-days of fun, family and LOTS of food.
My mother's generation of the family
The reunion started out being held at Nina and Jeck's house out on a lake in Nashville. My father was in the Air Force and so we moved around a bit during his time, so we didn't make it back to all the reunions in my childhood. But I do remember going out to the lake for the reunion on a couple of occasions. It was the one day a year when your parents took the word "no" out of the vocabulary when it came to what you could eat and drink. Each year, there would be tubs full of ice with bottles full of cold sodas--everything from Cokes to Orange Soda to Dr Pepper and more. And on that day, you drink as many as you wanted. The bottles all had to be opened and there was a bottle opener on a tree in the yard that you used to pry open the caffeine and sugar goodness. I remember one summer, my generation was excited because Coke had a contest--if you could spell out some word using letters found under the bottlecaps, you'd win a prize. Needless to say, we drank even more than usual, pooling our resources, hoping we'd win the prize. We didn't win anything in the contest--well, except a caffeine rush, a sugar high and an upset stomach.
Of course, being a little kid, the one thing you couldn't wait for was to get to go swimming in the lake. I remember being excited for days about this--so much so that the drive to the house for the reunion was just too long. I don't think there was a bridge directly across the lake, so you had to go around. You would pass by miles of lake and then go over a small connector and then drive back for what seemed like forever. But once you got there, the water was so inviting you couldn't wait for lunch to be over so you could jump in. There was always this huge block of styrofoam tied to the dock that we'd all climb on and then jump off of. Sometimes we'd play our own version of King of the Hill on it. I never really remember getting to be the King of the Hill very often.
After the novelty of swimming in the lake wore off (OK, it never really did!), Nina would power up the boat and take the cousins out for rides on the lake. When you got old enough, you could try to water ski. However, by the time I got old enough to water ski, Nina was too old to take anyone out in the boat. But I remember those great boat rides, watching cousins ski behind me, thinking "Someday, someday."
But the biggest rite of passage wasn't the water skiing. It was about growing to be taller than Nina. That was when you were truely on your way to being a big kid. Nina was shorter than most people and so, by junior high school, most of us were as tall if not taller than Nina. Just to show how tradition continues, my cousin Jenny has now stepped into the role of being the marker by which a younger generation compares itself to see how tall they are.
My generation of the family
Those years out by the lake were great fun. Unfortunately, as with all things, Nina and Jeck passed away. But that didn't stop our family. The reunion moved about--from a couple of state parks to a cousins' house in Knoxville. But the tradition of gathering together on or about the first weekend in August has never ended. Now instead of the lake, the kids can't wait to run and jump in the pool. We still gather together to catch-up on life and just cut up. We play spoons, which is a great game, whose rules I can't remember right now, but I could if I had several other family members here to help me. Sometimes, we of the younger generation will do something "fun" on Saturday evening. A couple of years ago, Lynn, Ben, my sister and I went to see Jurassic Park at the drive-in out near Dickson, TN. Certainly it wasn't the perfect surround sound and comfy seats that you'd expect, but we had a good time. And let's face it--there's not really a better drive-in type of movie than Jurassic Park.
I know the reunion takes a massive amount of work to put together each year. And I'm grateful to those family members who do it each year, thanklessly. My favorite cousin, Pam remarked that someday soon our generation would have to take over the leadership role and start planning things. In quick resposne, Randy responded that wehn it came time for that, he voted we all have the reunion in Vegas. I have to say it's not a bad idea.
We even have mini-reunions during the year. If there's a weddding in the family, you can bet most of us will show up. And we always have a good time together. But, also, the family comes together in times of trial. During any family emergency or death, the family rallies behind the person grieiving or suffering and is a rock. I have to say that I am truly blessed to have the family I have. I am fortunate to be related to them, but I'd choose them as my friends any day of the week. And most of the family is as crazy about UT football as I am--though there are some rougues who like UK. I don't think we have any out in the open Florida or Alabama fans, but if we did we'd still love 'em. We'd pray for them and work on them, but we'd still love 'em.
In this crazy world, where things change more often than we'd like, my family is something I count on to always be the same--loving and supportive. I am truly blessed to be part of it and I am thankful to have been born into such a wonderful community.
posted by Michael Hickerson at 8/10/2004 03:01:00 PM