The reunion began for me on Friday night in the parking lot of Roaring River State Park lodge. I had driven up with my father and stepmother and we were just getting out of the car when my cousin Tony and his family pulled in. Hugs all around. We went inside to check into our rooms. By this time it was about 10:30pm. I knew my cousin Mike and his wife Sally had arrived earlier in the day. Tony and I decided he didn't really need to sleep but needed hang out with us instead. Thoughtful cousins that we are we proceeded to pound on his door until he finally answered. Mike is a very good sport. He and Sally invited us in and we had great time catching up before finally turning in for the night.
|Mike and Sally|
|Tony and Connie|
The next morning we had arranged for everyone to meet at 9 a.m in the lodge restaurant for breakfast. The poor servers never knew what hit them. But they bravely pushed a bunch of tables together and started taking orders. As people trickled into the dining room there was lots of laughter and talking and a few tears as we embraced each other…many for the first time in 30 or more years.
|Saturday morning breakfast|
|My Kentucky cousins|
Tammy and Di
|Thomas Allen's headstone|
Spanish Fort Cemetery
After breakfast we lingered in the main gathering room of the lodge visiting and taking pictures. As luck would have it, my cousin Mark is married to Jackie, a professional photographer who is very skilled at
herding cats organizing family group photos. After the photo shoot everyone split up for the afternoon activities....some went down the river to fish, some hiked and some (meaning me) went on a field trip to the family cemetery. Nobody can appreciate a good cemetery like a genealogist, right? Dad’s brother, my Uncle Jerry and his son Chris (the other genealogy nerd in the family) served as tour guides. They have worked hard over the past few years to restore and maintain the old cemetery which had been sadly neglected. The cemetery originally looked out over a valley but is now surrounded by a thicket of trees. The thicket was winning until Uncle Jerry and Chris beat it back into submission. They had also researched the family’s land records in the area and were able to show us the valley our family had homesteaded and our ancestor Thomas Allen’s house. It is not only still standing but lovingly restored by it’s current owners who were gracious enough to let me take pictures.
In late afternoon, we reconvened at Uncle Jerry's place, conveniently located close to the state park. Cousin Chris and his sons are professional musicians and had set up their equipment to provide us with live music. We grilled burgers and brats (brought direct from Wisconsin by Cousin Mark along with some yummy cheese curds). More local aunts/uncles/cousins arrived, more photos were taken. The evening was progressing nicely when Chris announced over the microphone that he had a surprise and would everyone please gather around. Next thing we know Chris and his lovely girlfriend ( I thought she was a little overdressed for a BBQ!) were saying their wedding vows! The brief ceremony was officiated by Chris's son who had just become an ordained minister. The bride and groom decided that as long as the whole family was together they might as well get married at the reunion! Once again Jackie was pressed into
herding cats service, this time as wedding photographer. While the bride and groom danced a couple of the cousins quickly ran into town to buy a wedding cake. It was the perfect crown to the day.
|Bessie Allen Gray|
It may have been grief and loss that had provided the motivation we needed to finally come together along with our heightened awareness of the brevity of life and the necessity of taking every opportunity to love each other. But it was our deep connection to each other, in spite of years and miles that really made it all possible. That bond can be laid squarely at the feet of our shared mother and grandmother, Bessie, who loved us well. Thanks to her we have the one thing we all need to survive this life. Each other. Because ultimately that is what heals and comforts and gives us hope.
Our reunion began with tragedy but ended with a wedding. What is more hopeful than that?