All across the southern mountains of Appalachia, families find their way back home to their roots during the summer season.
I love the illustrated children’s book by Cynthia Rylant, The Relatives Came. It is a funny little picture book that accurately reflects summers past in older days when car loads of relatives descended on their mountain families during vacations and could only stay with their loved ones for a little while. Hugging, eating, talking, and more hugging were the order of the day. Children played while adults caught up with each other and shared family news.
I remember being the relatives who came. It seemed like the hours from our Chicago suburb to granddad’s hollow went on forever. We asked repeatedly, “Are we there yet?” and “How far is it now.”
Even if we traveled at night, I’d wake up and look out the window to see if there were any mountains in view. My mom or dad would announce when we came over the river into Kentucky and everyone would cheer.
I could hardly wait for the fun I knew I’d have with the cousins when we finally made it home to the mountains. We swam at the swimming hole, caught crawdads in the creek, gathered lightning bugs in jars, and tied strings onto the legs of June bugs to watch them fly. We ate grandma’s gravy and biscuits, walked a mile or more to the country store for a bottle of pop, chased each other, said hello to everyone sitting out on their front porch, and relayed messages to our parents from other relatives.
We made mud pies, wrote in the sandy patches of the road up the holler, and raced each other coming and going. What happy times those were!
This weekend is the annual Hamlin gathering on my mom’s side of the family. There were 16 children in the Hamlin clan along with all of their children and children’s children. I truly have cousins by the dozens.
They come from Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Florida, Arizona, Tennessee, and sometimes as far as California. Things have changed a bit. They fill up the local hotels instead of squeezing everyone in at grandma’s and all of the other aunts and uncles who lived close together.
My mom lives from one year to the next looking forward to the Hamlin gathering. As time passes and the number of relatives still living shrinks each year, the atmosphere changes with each passing person. Thinking about the future and the end of the reunions is not pleasant. So, we enjoy as much as we can while we can.
At age 82, my mother has her first book in print called, Hamlin Gathering. It is a gathering of some of her childhood stories, family information, and old family photos. I was able to surprise her with the finished copies of the book this week before her family starts arriving. It seemed to me that this year’s reunion is going to be a special one. As always, there will plenty of love, food, and laughter to go around.
My dad’s side of the family, the Hensleys, tend to gather on Decoration Day on the Hensley graveyard or for the Hensley Settlement Reunion in August.
We live in a world where children live further away from their parents than ever before, or so it seems. Families get busy with their daily routines, and the demands of life in far away places. It is a very good things to have a designated time when the relatives all try to plan on being together.
Reach Judith Victoria Hensley at [email protected] or on Facebook. Check out her blog: One Step Beyond the Door.