A family tie is like a tree, it can bend but it cannot break. ~ African proverb
Family reunion season is in full swing. Kin folks are coming together in a single place, with a single purpose: recognizing the ties that bind. These gathering often serve a greater need — a chance to relax with people who know and love you and recharge.
Some families opt to gather at the same place every year. Others take cruises or move from city to city for elaborate affairs involving hundreds of people.
Family reunions have become big business for hotels and travel agencies. Hotels in most major cities have reunion coordinators who work with host family members to plan menus, activities and giveaways.
For 54 years, the Duerson-Bennett-Miller clan has gathered on the fourth Sunday in July. Now a three-day affair, this year’s reunion is in my hometown, Lexington, KY. After beginning the reunion with a small group of family members near Richmond, Ky., our kin folks met at Mt. Airy Forest Park in Cincinnati for many years. The lush forest was a beautiful spot to celebrate our roots. Everyone brought a covered dish for a picnic where we sang our reunion song, recognized the oldest and youngest family members, then peeled off to play cards and other games.
At that time, most of the family lived in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. Since then, family members have relocated to California, Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia.
One of our beloved matriarchs, Aurelia Duerson Johnson, passed away a few years ago. Cousin Aurelia stitched a colorful quilt each year that was auctioned off to benefit our family scholarship fund. It’s our way of telling our high school graduates we are proud of them and expect great things in their futures.
Without Cousin Aurelia, my immediate family may have never connected with my father’s side of the family. She reached out to him his 20s, inviting him to fellowship with the family he’d never met. She wanted my Dad to know that he came from decent, hardworking and loving people, despite being abandoned by his father.
As our reunion has grown, so has the vision for the annual event. In 2000, we hosted the reunion in the South for the first time. About 200 people attended. As we were loading our bus at The King Center, our tour guide, Mae Gentry, invited a surprise guest to welcome us: Former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, who happened to be at The King Center that day.
In an effort to keep our young people engaged, our reunion weekend now includes a basketball tournament and an awards ceremony, primarily for school age children. One of the longest running traditions is our memorial service, where we read the names of family members who have passed on and light candles in their memory. And what would a family reunion be without a few line dances such as the Electric Slide and the Wobble?
Every family’s reunion is unique. My mother’s side of the family opts to keep our reunion simple. It’s a one day affair every other year that involves outdoor games for the children, scholarship awards and plenty of home cooked food, courtesy of the family’s best cooks. Last year, reunion hosts included a tote bag and T-shirts for attendees.
Next weekend, we will head to the Hunt family reunion in Asheville, N.C. A scavenger hunt and other games are being planned, among other activities. there will be T-shirts and awards and plenty of great food. The reunion will be especially sweet for my husband this year since he’s had so many health challenges. He is sure to find comfort in the warm hugs and love exchanged during reunion weekend.
Reunions are so important to the survival of our families. They remind us where we come from, and inspire us to keep going.
If I am in harmony with my family, that’s success. ~ Ute proverb