My sisters and I went to a birthday party Saturday. My uncle turned 90 years old, and he is a favorite with us. Throughout the years he has been fun loving, always laughing, kind, and attentive. He is also the family history keeper. He can tell you when his parents moved from this farm to that farm (and why), and they moved several times trying to avoid the depression and the seven-year-drought in Texas. I believe the book, The Days of Wine and Roses, was written about a family trying to escape the Dust Bowl back then, a term for the farm lands that dried up and the crops blew away. He has always made my family feel welcome and included in his life.
The rooms were full at my uncle’s son’s home, and I hardly knew anyone. There were a few faces I recognized, but hadn’t seen for several years. I didn’t grown up around this side of the family of my mother’s people. We all kept busy eating the delicious brisket, potato salad and bean salad several family members had prepared. The hostess had carefully seated us at tables where we would have people with common interests and familiarity.
Afterwards, we drifted about the room, visiting with people we wanted to connect with. I sat down at a table and asked the couple there, “How are you related?”
“I’m your cousin….your first cousin to be exact,” she said, introducing herself and her husband. My mouth must have fallen open.
“Really?” I fumbled about for adequate words, and couldn’t find any that would make me look polished and social. All the while I thinking about how this could be? First cousins? I could understand second or third cousins not knowing each other, but first cousins?
I think everyone had a good time, and we headed home later that afternoon. I started wondering about almost a whole family meeting when they were up in age, many seemingly for the first time since they were young children.
I think the reason was that my father didn’t feel comfortable around my mother’s family. He thought they were more educated and proud for the likes of him…his own inadequacy instead of any real attitude on their part, so he loaded up our family and escaped to the hills and backwoods of Arkansas. My mother would want to return to her family reunions each year, and he would agree to take us, but at the last moment he would get ill, and we wouldn’t go. We children figured out that Daddy getting ill every year before one of those reunion trips was a bit much for coincidence.
It is interesting how the decision of one man could change the course of relationships of an entire family for years. My sister, known for her spunkiness, says it is our mother’s fault as well as our father’s for letting him get away with it. But mother didn’t drive and had a houseful of kids, so she just cried and accepted whatever he wanted.
I’ve seen throughout history how fateful decisions have turned the course of history. Jesus spoke about healing relationships: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace…Be angry, yet do not sin. Do not let the sun set while you are still angry.” (Ephesians 4:2-3,26)
I think our dear uncle has lived up to that teaching. He has kept up with those relatives even through long-distance, and they returned to him and to each other. He has been a bridge of love and heritage. I took emails, phone numbers and Facebook addresses. I think it might be my turn to be a bridge when our side of the family meets in the future. They will be invited and included.