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America's Birthday and Reunions

Erin left Woodsong early this morning after breakfast, stopped in Nashville to have lunch with her friend Brooke, and is now safely back home in Georgia.  We already miss her.

Yesterday while she was running around shopping and having fun with Gma Shirley and her cousin Sarah, Gerald and I attended the annual family reunion at his cousin Troy’s house.  Started long ago as a birthday party for Gerald’s grandfather Ben, Ben’s daughter-in-law Stella, and Ben’s granddaughter Patsy, this was one of the first family gatherings I attended after Gerald and I were married.  That party was at his cousin Wilma’s house. I remember because I was pregnant with Katherine and by the time we went over the winding country roads that are so beautiful, I was quite nauseous.  

Later we were out of the area and then after Grandpa Ben’s death, we did not attend for years, but when it started being at Troy and Bobbi’s farm each year, we were invited and try to attend.  This is our opportunity to see his cousin Patsy’s three daughters and whatever family they can bring with them as they still honor their mother’s birthday.  Troy and Bobbi set up comfortable tables and chairs in their pleasant garage and picnic tables and lawn chairs under the huge shade trees in their yard.  As someone observed, there was food enough left over from the pot luck to feed another large family the same size.  That was before the homemade ice cream was served.

 The biggest thing in our community this holiday weekend has been the school reunion planned by two sisters and their volunteer committee.  I have been following the progress on Facebook for months.  Not being an alumna of the local school, I was not involved, but my children have been interested even though only my local daughter was able to attend.  From the pictures on FB and all the comments written there, it was a beautifully organized event and the food was delicious. Almost 500 people were served dinner last night in the old high school gym.  For a tiny village without that large a population, that is amazing.  I cannot even imagine preparing food for such a crowd, but these folks did it. 

Someone said Violet Jordan, formerly school secretary for many years, was expected to be the oldest present. I think she celebrated her 90th birthday not long ago. There were a good many multi-generations in attendance I think.  With the coal mines mostly gone, a large percentage of our graduates go elsewhere for employment.  Everyone was so excited to be able to see friends again. 

The first thing I heard when I walked into our village church this morning was a friend telling me Katherine and David were able to attend.  I knew she wanted to do so, but I also knew she was afraid it would be too difficult.  Having taught music at the school to children from K-12 before multiple sclerosis made it necessary for her to resign, Katherine was wondering how she would handle the exhaustion of meeting up with not just her own classmates but also former students.  I had heard, however,  that the more recent graduates  were not the ones coming but those who had been out of school long enough to have lost touch with friends and who now really want to reconnect. 

Before Sunday School was over today, our pastor was back in our small preschool room telling me the Richey family with their little ones were in the sanctuary and maybe I better have some extra help during the worship service.  The Richey kids—Danny, Tommy, and Polly—grew up with our two older children. Several of their children (teens and young adults now) were also with them and Polly’s three grandchildren—the two-year-old twins Sadie and Riley and their younger toddler cousin Savannah. We were told which twin had the longer pony tail, and that all three could share pacifiers without our worrying about it.  (Polly looks more like a movie-star than a grandmother, but she still looked very comfortable carrying baby Savannah around the church yard after services.) 

Beaming over all of them was their father and grandfather,  Fred, who moved into his own assisted living apartment in Marion after the death of his wife Helen who spent way too many of her last years in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s when Fred could no longer take care of her.  Yet he drove to Carrier Mills each day to see her.  All I could think was how thrilled Helen would have been if she could have seen those great granddaughters.  She loved children, and long after she was sick but still able to come to services, she would coo excitedly anytime we had small children in a program or singing a song. 

Helen was a good friend from the time we moved into the Crab Orchard community with a toddler named Jeannie and baby Mary Ellen on the way.  Helen was the church nursery coordinator and went out of her way to make me feel welcome.  When her own preschoolers were older and after teaching in local schools awhile, she soon became one of the outstanding instructors at Southern Illinois University’s Vocational Institute.  I remember she would hurry home to be there when her kids got off the school bus, passing through Marion on the way home. Then if she had to do errands in town, she would drive back with her children in the car.   

Yet she still had time to help out friends in need.  When a single mom with young school children moved into our community and lived near her, Helen made sure the children could call her if they needed to before their mother got off work.  She took care of Jeannie and Mary Ellen when Katherine was in the hospital in St. Louis once.  Jeannie was thrilled because Helen tied an apron around her waist and let her stand on a platform and wash dishes.  Mary Ellen remembers a campout on their farm and Fred letting them ride the horse.  I remember her helping me in the church kitchen the day of Jeannie’s wedding.  They were all still bubbling about the school reunion the night before, and the resulting family reunion today.  They are hoping for a repeat next July.   

We are grateful to live in a nation where we have freedom to worship as we please,  to express our differences in opinions in the press and in public, and where families and friends can gather together to enjoy each other’s company without fear.