My father has three brothers and these four siblings had ten kids. My grandmother remarried before I was born to a man I called my grandfather. He had two daughters who had three kids. This was a big blended family. Between grandparents, parents, spouses and cousins it numbered twenty-seven.
Growing-up we gathered once a month down on the farm and ate Sunday dinner plus we celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas together. The gathering spots in the house were small but the land was expansive, over 175 acres and I think I covered every foot of those 175 acres growing up.
I have wonderful memories of the time spent with my family at these gatherings. It was loud with a lot of laughter and great food. At barely five feet tall my grandmother was large and in charge and she ruled with an iron fist. My grandfather was the sweetest, most patient man I have ever known in my life. He would have to be to live with the tornado that was my grandmother.
This weekend my wife and I traveled back to this parcel of earth for a gathering of some of my family. My grandparents have longed since passed away but the four brothers and two sisters were there as were some of my cousins, and their kids. These were people who I have known all my life. People that have known me all my life and though we share a common thread we couldn’t be more different from each other in so many ways.
My wife didn’t grow-up with this kind of bond in her extended family. When I talk about some of the memories I have of spending Sunday afternoons on the front porch with a belly so full of fried chicken that I thought I would explode she becomes envious. Memories of roaming in the woods, fishing in the pond, playing catch with my cousins and eating a big slice of my grandmothers prize-winning Coconut cake. I understand her envy.
Saturday I saw people I don’t see very often, some I haven’t seen for ten or twenty years. I met kids that I have never met before, a new generation that shares my DNA, my nose, and my smile. I stood on dirt that I haven’t stood on in thirty years, scenery that has changed but hasn’t changed so much that I didn’t recognize it. There were people there that I may never see alive again. People that I may never speak to again. People that have known me forever but know very little about me today.
I brought two rocks back with me, rocks I fished from the creek that I spent some much time in as a kid searching for crawdads and salamanders. Something inside told me I will never see this little patch of earth again, that there are uncles and aunts I will never hug or laugh with again as well. Life moves forward and in that forward motion people leave and others fill their space. I suspect I don’t have as long as I would like in the little space I occupy but I know others are out there, waiting to fill it.