In a place like the Arkansas Delta, the lack of job opportunities creates a centrifugal force that flings family members to the far corners of the country. It takes some special event to bring them back together. A family reunion provides a chance to visit old friends and relatives without having to suffer the indignity of a funeral or the preoccupation of a wedding. It is a good thing.
We attended the Bennett family reunion yesterday in the small Delta town of Carlisle, Arkansas. Meeting in the town’s sparkling new civic center, the descendants of Brenda’s maternal grandmother’s family met to renew old memories, swap stories, and—of course—share a meal. All families must think their food is best but this one would take a back seat to none.
In short, it was fun.
They came from as far away as Georgia and North Platte, Nebraska. The oldest was in her 90s and the youngest was seven months. A few were in-laws like me who just watched, ate, and met new friends. The others were descendants of a family that, according to family historians, landed at Plymouth Rock.
Of course some of my relatives on my mother’s side may have been there to meet them.
More research claims the Bennett family’s lineage directly back to the great Charlemagne (c.742-814), also known as Karl and Charles the Great, the medieval emperor who ruled much of Western Europe from 768 to 814. I was, therefore, instructed to pay commensurate respect when addressing my wife and mother-in-law.
All in all, it was great fun. This branch of the Bennett family moved to the Delta area around Carlisle after finding the plains of Nebraska unsuitable for the life they sought. It is said that they sent the women and children by train while the menfolk transported family possessions to Arkansas by wagon. One can imagine the trials of that trip as they meandered through the mountains in the western part of our state.
According to legend they brought with them stores of books sealed in wooden barrels. Somewhere along the line they acquired a large pump-organ, still in the possession of my mother-in-law. In addition to music, the family seems to have valued education and hard work, values still evident in the lives of the descendants.
Reunions face the threat of dying out like a summer storm as the survivors spread thinner and thinner. Brenda and her mother used to attend reunions of the 79th Infantry Division, her father’s outfit in World War Two, until the survivors simply became too feeble to attend. Younger descendants of a once close family may not feel the need for renewed kinship as strongly.
In the case of the Bennetts, here’s wishing them many more years of these things we lovingly call family reunions. And here is a reunion-inspired thought from me to many of those who never had a chance for another one.