Twenty-seven Cousins and One Aunt

Oldest Cousin With Her Daughter and Grandson

I made a fast trip to my home town in Tennessee this weekend because my sisters were all driving there for the cousins’ lunch.  Usually my sister Sherrie is the only one who can go, because she lives less than an hour away.  For the rest of us, it’s a lengthy drive or, in my case, a two-hour flight.  But we all agreed to get together this time and go to the lunch.

The Jones family used to have big reunions in the summertime.  We’d cook out and picnic in the local park.  I remember my grandfather, Pap, sitting in a lawn chair under a huge shade tree, his back poker-straight.  He had rather cold blue eyes and a beak of a nose.  Mammy, my grandmother, had passed away by the time I remember the reunions. His ten children would be there with their spouses and children, so it was quite a crowd.  My cousin Mary Ann organized reunions later, after Pap died.  It got harder and harder to gather the group as some moved away, and others died.  Then Mary Ann passed away suddenly from a medical condition and the reunions stopped.

A few years ago the last of Pap’s children started meeting at a restaurant for lunch occasionally along with some of their nieces and nephews, i.e., the cousins.  The lunch on Saturday was one of the biggest ever.  Aunt Agnes was there, the youngest of Pap’s children–she’s 86.  And there were 27 cousins, ranging in age from Lurleen, who is 87(oldest daughter of Pap’s oldest son), to four of Pap’s great-great-grandchildren, three of whom were less than 10 years old. 

It was pretty overwhelming, especially when I realized our teenaged waitress was a cousin, too (one of the great-great-grandchildren), and did not remember her great-grandfather, who was one of my dad’s brothers.  Whew!  And I’m not that old!  I guess that’s what happens when you have a large family spread over 20 years, and some of them have large families spread over 20 years, like my parents did.   

The world is different now.  We are scattered far and wide, and many of us don’t know the other cousins.  One of my nephews met a cousin when he and his wife took their first child to the pediatrician.  They had the traditional Southern “where are you from?  where is your family from?” conversation.  Turns out they were both Pap’s great-grandchildren and had never known each other.   Now they are friends.

Here’s a short video of everyone at the lunch!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Pmfuf3RC-0&feature=channel_video_title

Photo of My Grandfather, circa 1941

My Grandfather

The world was sepia-toned back then.  A man’s mules were not just machines to work the fields.  They were friends or enemies, members of the family you followed down the rows, piloting the plow with your strength and their strength over the years, to plant and tend the crops that were your life and their life.

             The mules were named Judy and Mandy.  Their ears were quizzical, their noses were soft, their teeth were large and they were apt to bite.  If Judy and Mandy were put in the same stall in the old, run-down stable, they would nip at each other, whicker nastily, and fuss.  If they were put in separate stalls, they would each kick the wall between them until it collapsed and they were together, to nip at each other and fuss.

             In the photo it is early spring.  The trees are just beginning to bud.  It is time to break the ground for the plant bed, to sow the tobacco seeds and cover the bed with canvas.  By May the plants are spreading small, flat green leaves.  It will be time to break the ground in the field with the mules, and set the tobacco plants by hand, backbreaking labor.      

The man is serious in this photo, sincere.  He wears his hat on the back of his head, so his face is revealed, open.  He wears worn overalls and a flimsy jacket.  He wears a clean white shirt. 

You cannot see his five children.  You cannot see his irreverent humor, or how he loved to hear his coonhounds run, their bell-like voices bawling “oh-oh-oh” as they raced on the trail of their prey. 

But you can see his hazel eyes if you look at me or my niece Judy.  And you can feel his love of animals in the dogs, cats, rabbits and chickens his great-great-grandchildren love.