This was my cousin Floyd’s idea. Shall we all get together for a family reunion? he asked.
The last big gathering of our Dad’s family took place decades ago in Nashville at my aunt Betty’s home.
That was during a time when most of Dad’s large family were still living. Pap, Mama, Hugh Lee, James, Roger, Billy, Mary Sue, Hope, Ray, Helen, Lynn are all gone now.
Uncle Doug and Aunt Betty are Dad’s only surviving siblings of what once was a large tribe. Granny birthed eight kids: six boys and two girls. Aunt Betty is the oldest of the girls. Uncle Doug is the youngest of the boys.
Doug (known as Raymond to some) opened our gathering with prayer. Of all of the Spears family, Doug reminds me most of Granny Leona. His sly wit that sneaks up on a person. Like when we called him from Virginia and said we were on our way, finally.
We’ve been doing some research in a graveyard in Charlottesville, I told him.
Be careful, Doug replied. Them people will talk you to death.
When I was a little girl, I envied all my Tennessee cousins, who got to see so much more of Granny and Pap than we did as military kids, living far off in Georgia or Hawaii.
The only cousins we lived near were Joe & Melissa, my aunt Mary Sue’s kids. I was their sometimes summer babysitter.
Floyd and Lynn and Bobby came over to Columbus a time or two from their home in Selma, Alabama, especially in those early years after Daddy died. Uncle Ray and Aunt Helen were watching out after Mama. And we visited them in Selma once or twice, but not much.
Travel was much more difficult back in the 1960s in the South. And, as Uncle Doug pointed out on our ride to the memorial last night, it was all anybody could do to keep up with their jobs and own kids.
It’s the way of families that when the elders die off, the reunions become far less frequent. I don’t get to see my own siblings the way I did when Mama was alive. The very last time I was in Tennessee with my brother and sister was June of 2013, when we came to place Mama in the grave next to Daddy.
Our kin gathered round us, then, too. It’s that way with our family. They say Appalachians are a clannish people, the result of our ancestry. I suppose it’s true, if by clannish you mean we have a deep sense of belonging to each other and to these hills.
It doesn’t seem to matter how far off we live or how little we actually talk, we still understand that we are each other’s people.
We are bound by the faith of our elders and the losses we shared as all members of a Gold Star family.
When I say the death of one soldier impacts the lives of so many it is my father and each of these Gold Star family members I think about. My Dad’s people.
It is the way with my dad’s people, to honor others, to pray for one another, to encourage one another, to weep together and to laugh together, and to walk side-by-side with each other, no matter the distance between us.
I hope wherever you gather this 4th of July, it is with people like my Kingsport kin.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of After the Flag is Folded (William Morrow). We can