My childhood was filled with family reunions. And family, for that matter: Great-grandparents, Grandparents, parents, siblings, Great-Aunts and Uncles, Aunts and Uncles, their offspring, my cousins, first cousins, first cousins-once-removed, and second cousins. Those last two were hard to figure out. The conversation wound back a couple of generations and I’d be lost in the family tree.
There were, of course, the formal reunions like marriages, deaths, Grandpa’s ninetieth birthday, holidays, 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries. Those were big! But mostly we got together because we liked being together and there were enough families and enough reasons to make it happen often.
This is a Sunderland family reunion with “Grandma and Grandpa Walt.”” No one said just Grandma, unless you wanted something real bad. It was Grandma Walt. I learned a lot about cooking from her, my hands look like her’s when I’m kneading dough. And I have her name, the name no one ever said. And I don’t say. Because it’s ours.
That’s the Sunderland side of the family. Four to six brothers, I lose track, came to Missouri/Kansas. My grandfather’s father was one of those brothers and they settled in Marshall County, Kansas.
Then there’s the story of the Ellis and Moore families. That’s my mother’s side. Her great-grandmother, (my great-great grandmother) Lucinda Moore, came across the country in a Quaker migration and gave birth to my great-grandfather in a newly dugout home from a hillside, Jewell County, Kansas, above a stream is my guess. The dugout, not the birth.
And then there’s Mr. Ellis, my grandfather, a railroad man up from Kentucky who seduced a good Quaker girl…and married her…and had children, my mother the oldest.
How that whole family got from Jewell County, Kansas to Marshall County, Kansas is a more complicated story…my mother born in Jewell County…but it came down to Grandpa the Railroad Man getting a transfer to Frankfort, Kansas. Her parents followed with the rest of their children. My mother’s mother the eldest. And they all grew up in Marshall County.
Now you understand why it became confusing to sort out the first-cousin-once-removed from the second. There were a lot of us.
All of which, in a round-about-way, gets me to our family reunions this summer on our road trip. We stopped along the way visit family in West Virginia and I got to hold my brand-new great-nephew and teach him how to suck his thump. Great-Aunties have prerogatives. But it was the first reunion for my primary group, grandparents, children, grandchildren. Well, there was one other when my granddaughter-in-law-to-be flew here one Christmas to check out her new boyfriend, my grandson’s family. I was impressed. This reunion was a family vacation, in cabin in the woods outside Blue Ridge, Georgia, on a lake. We played poker again just like the first time.
We laughed and we cooked and we ate. My daughter-in-law and I both take pride in feeding people. So does my granddaughter-in-law, although she and grandson more inclined to take people out to dinner, and now we take selfies.
My sisters and I, and the cousins, all adults, talk of when we could have the next family reunion, but we are so wide-spread, from New York State to Hawaii, and points in between, the task to organize becomes daunting.
At least we’re all on Facebook. The oldest of our current crop of babies, three so far, turned one-year-old yesterday, a girl. The two younger ones, boys, are less than six-months old. Another arrives early next year. The cousins’ babies.
So will they be second cousins? Or first cousins once removed? There must be a formula for that. I don’t think I learned it, growing up.