Saturday, August 14, 2010
And so another reunion has come and gone, punctuating the year, while moving time forward a notch. If you begin with J. T. Hoskins, the founder of this spreading brood, the reunion reaches back to 1817, the year of his birth. Hannah Elizabeth Ware was born some 20 years later; his second wife, mother of The Sisters. There were two boys of the first marriage and two from the Hoskins-Ware union, but it was The Sisters who really embody the reunion, and were, I suspect, responsible for this wedding anniversary celebration getting off the ground. They, of course, are long gone, and of the cousins, as that next generation are called, only 93 year old Joe Pollard is left. Not even an ancient widow remains since Elvira Henley died last year. With the passing of Charles Warner and Elizabeth Tribble, the next generation is beginning to peel off. They were the oldest of my own BDís generation and he is one of, if not the youngest. Fourth cousins of my son are now parents of children who will be going to college in a week or two. It is just a matter of a few years before we have sixth cousins coming to this reunion as wee tiny babes.
At least, thatís what I hope and thatís why I have shouldered what little responsibility I do have for seeing that this gathering continues. This is Virginia, where venerable old traditions are still alive. There are still folk who say "Pawpa said ..." and "Thatís the way itís always been done" and until world domination by the Random Access Generation is complete, I suspect we can count on hearing them offered up as fine reasons for just about anything. As I said, this is Virginia, so something this old has a right to keep on keeping on, merely because it is this old.
Happily, the weather gods were in the mood to bless this family with what I used to call "California Weather": dry air, bright sun, lamb-like puffy clouds and sweet breezes. Iím responsible for keeping up the mailing list and getting out invitations. I also provide all the paper products for about 100 folk and enough lemonade and tea as well. This way, I donít have to cook, something I almost never want to do on your typical Bermuda High Virginia August weekend. We canít count on California Weather, we can only be grateful for it. The other responsibility I share with BH is setting out all the paraphernalia: the name tags, mailing labels, and such, and directing all the food arrangements. We are the de facto hostesses and this has sometimes been a delight and sometimes been a burden. Itís always a joy afterwards, but for the past few years it was not one we eagerly anticipated. We just accepted it as our duty. A duty Iíve been about ready to pass on to someone else, in fact, bowing out of responsibility, not even caring that much if that person dropped it.
How glad I am that I began, about 10 days ago, to start tinkering with my soulís joy-0-meter. By the time I was driving out our lane with BD, who canít understand why I like to get there (anywhere) so early, I was prepared to have a splendid time, to not be upset about a thing, to greet them all with glad smiles and to just have one heck of a time. And thatís what happened. It was so breezy and cool we threw open all the windows to the church, letting in sunshine and crisp air for the first time I can ever remember. Folk came in so slowly that I figured weíd have a small crowd, and alas, none of the North Carolina nor Eastern Shore cousins came, but happily, my favorite William besides my own, was there with his darling mother and sweet natured father, his way-cool Aunt Mary and her beautiful daughter Katherine. As BH and I say, they are our kind of people, and I didnít have the slightest qualm about telling them of my friend L, the past life hypnotist, who is visiting tomorrow.
Our favorite cousins pulled in fairly early and lent willing hands to everything. These are the Bedford cousins who put me up for 3 days last April when I taught spinning and told stories at the Sedlia Fiber Festival. They had brought word from my darling niece R who was too far away in Chicago to make it this year. Cousins came from Texas. Cousins came from Arizona. They came from Maryland and NoVA and a whole lot of cousins came from Richmond. There were Henleys from King and Queen and Hutchinsons and Hailes from Essex. 75 to 100 altogether, with enough food to feed them all, even if there wasnít quite as much left over as some years. Somehow it all worked out as if planned by the best of caterers.
There was chicken, of course, mostly fried. There was some barbecue and of course, that southern staple, ham biscuits, though this was yankee ham, not the thin, chewy salty Virginia Ham. Iíve been the one to contribute real ham on beaten biscuits in the past, but as I said - I donít cook in August if I can help it. There were any number of corn puddings from creamy to speckled with fresh off the cob kernels. Fresh garden vegetable dishes tumbled from a cornucopia of kitchens. On the last table the regal deserts held forth as supreme reason for dining. I love to lean down and whisper to a wee child that here itís okay to eat desert first, so save room on your plate. The offerings were proof of a maxim I resent, but have to believe - that itís not desert if it isnít chocolate. And chocolate was there in plenty: brownies, cookies, chocolate whipped cream pudding, meringues, and a frosted Khaluah cake that Cousin Anne always brings from Roanoke. Even though my favorite thing there was a molasses pie, you can be sure I had a slice of that cake. For me, the meal has to end with chocolate, and if I donít get any, I find myself eating and eating and eating, looking for the flavor point that says it's time to stop, that period at the end of the meal. Who would have thought TheQueen was a chocoholic?
Tables have always been set up inside the church hall for those too old to sit long in the heat but I never like to dine inside. For one thing, itís too crowded and for another itís too noisy, but the main reason is that once youíre at a table you donít get to visit with anyone but your immediate neighbors. I far prefer to eat outside with the picnickers, usually younger cousins with children, drifting from one blanket to another, from one sister's greatand great-great grandchildren to the next. Saturdayís glorious weather made people linger much longer than usual, talking, sharing, gathering in clusters to be photographed, breaking up into new arrangements of kinship for more snapshots. For the first time I can remember, weíd done all the clean-up and driven off before the last of the visitors were ready to part.
Though BH and I do the artistic arrangements and the small personal details, we donít do any of the heavy setting up. For years the Henley boys did all the work, with a little help from some of the other young men in the family. But someone has to linger at the church to lock up and that lingering can turn into excruciating patience when ancient great aunts who havenít seen each other in a year want to chat a while in the cool before getting into cars and parting for another 12 months. At last, they rebelled and their mom backed them up. The first year I accepted the role as co-hostess I didnít get out of that church till nigh on to 5 oíclock and I was almost screaming with frustration. Now we pay someone to do the heavy stuff and nobody has to be a victim.
Only 4 households gathered at our house in the late afternoon, for swimming and boating and dining again - yes yes - we do eat dinner on reunion day even if we already had our daily caloric needs met at lunch time. The Bedford cousins bring us peaches every year, white and yellow, succulent and sweet. There was ice cream and there were popcicles, and of course, any good house has a couple of bottles of champagne to celebrate with - just in case you have a celebration emergency. Conversations flowed from porch to dining room to upstairs bedrooms to back yards. Croquet was set up on the back lawn, favorite toys were spread out on the floor by 6 year olds, little girls gazed lovingly at teen aged boys. Just your typical family reunion core group, catching up on the details of all the news weíd shared in letters or emails or phone calls.
It was a loving end to a long day. It glowed for me all of its 24 hour hours.
The next morning was a softer version of the night before. Weíve cut our beautiful family tradition from the same pattern for 13 years but it's made of knitted fabric; flexable, stretchy. A teenaged boy is married and has his own house now. Little girls who were not yet in school that first year are now in college. A little boy who once wept when he had to leave drove the family car home this year. The reunion is different every year, even as so much stays the same. It spans almost 200 years of living to know and talk about, for stories about old J.T.Hoskins are still shared as if they had happened just last month and when he got here you could tease him about them. Itís a precious thing to know this much family history. I guess I can keep on as steward a little longer.
The weather stayed deliciously perfect. No sooner had the cousins driven off than BDís brother drove up and the visit on the porch was as sweet as itís ever been. When the silence of his departure settled over the house, BD and I took the three mile walk out to Robertís Landing, savoring happy memories, anticipated delights and present joys. The late afternoon sun felt tender on our skin and the patches of shade had a coolness that carried with it the hint of fall. As we strolled past the west woods a harvest cricket began its autumnal song, that shrill cry that speaks of morning glories and tickseed, early dusk and sweaters. The dogs jumped a buck along Farmerís Hall Creek. Still in velvet, it looked more like a reindeer with its huge antlers. It crashed up the bank and disappeared into the cornfield, Jack in hot pursuit and Priss yipping as she dashed past us.
There is no denying it. That great wheel of time is turning turning turning. Summer isnít over yet. But it almost is. It always is. After The Reunion