Next weekend my extended family on my mother’s side will gather together for a long planned reunion.
Cousins that I haven’t seen in many years will gather from around the country.
Unfortunately due to other commitments many of us will not be able to attend, but when I think about these events, my mind is taken back to the “Elks Lodge” in Elberton, GA where we gathered many times in the past.
Today, I hope you will enjoy a remembrance of those days that I wrote back in 2009.
For my family that will gather and those of us who can’t, I love you all and send prayers and blessings your way.
My family is big on tradition. We follow the same routine for Christmas, birthdays were always a big deal, Thanksgiving dinner has been the same since I was a child and today I cook the same meal in my own home. I love the traditions that were set forth by my parents and in many cases their parents before them.
One such tradition was the Clark Family Reunion in Elberton each summer. Elberton is about an hour from God’s Country, but it is where ma-ma and her brothers and sisters grew up. Known for its granite businesses, Elberton is a big producer of tomb stones. (Somebody has to do it!)
Ma-ma came from a big family and each year the descendants would descend on Elberton, The Elk’s Lodge to be exact and reunion.
Going into reunions I was never excited. As the youngest of the grand-children I didn’t have a lot in common with my cousins. More precisely I was closer in age to many of the second cousins, which kept me in limbo. I was too young to hang with my peers and the younger kids were too young to do much, which left me clinging to ma-ma and mama most of the day.
Reunion would begin early in the morning. These gatherings were pot luck, so mama would get up early and start putting together her contribution for the meal. With mama’s penchant for extreme cooking, she would usually prepare enough for a small army, when it comes to cooking for groups she has never understood the concept of everyone bringing something, she always wants to make sure there is enough just in case someone isn’t able to bring their share.
Daddy wasn’t much into these family reunions, but he would always go and put on a happy face. By the end of the day, daddy would be in full spirit and entertaining the masses with his stories.
By the time mama was finished preparing her dishes the four of us would load up the car and start our trek to ma-ma and gramps house, about 30 miles away. Like mama, ma-ma would over indulge in the cooking department as well. There was always homemade chocolate cake, usually fried chicken, okra, corn from the garden and peas. Ma-ma would prepare for days for the reunions, these events were what she lived for. Getting together with her brothers and sisters and showing off their families.
Sam and I would always get a lecture in the car. No fighting and be on your best behavior, we were NOT to embarrass ma-ma in front of her family.
Off we would go, gramps, daddy and me in the front seat, ma-ma, mama and Sam in the back. Dressed in our new reunion clothes, a Bonneville filled with enough food for a third world nation and two kids threatened within an inch of our lives to behave.
Elberton is about 30 minutes from ma-ma and gramps house, not a far journey, but when it is made in a car that is over packed and over stuffed by six people in dress clothes on a summer day with the sun beating through the glass it isn’t always a pleasant trip. By the time we reached Elberton, we were all ready to get out of the car and stretch our legs.
Family reunions were held at the Elk’s Lodge, a rustic old building just off the main road. Without fail, the first person we would always see standing out waiting for the family would be Uncle Chester. If gramps would have had a twin it would have been Uncle Chester, although they were only related by marriage the two men were the mirror image of each other. Tall, lanky, distinguished southern gentlemen of few words, impeccably dressed with a sly smile and twinkle in their eyes. Gramps and Uncle Chester were the kind of men people gravitated to, not to be entertained but to learn from.
After the parking lot greeting, Uncle Chester would help us unload and move into the Elk’s Lodge. The interior of the lodge was exactly what you would imagine, one big open room with a kitchen in the back, a large rock fireplace, linoleum floors and dark stained panelling.
Aunt Laura Bea would be busily working when we came in. Setting up the buffet with her load of food big enough to feed an army, she would stop the pace of activity just long enough to greet us all with a hug and kiss, always stating what fine young boys Sam and I were.
Like ma-ma, Aunt Laura Bea was short in stature but big in personality. Like ma-ma, immaculately dressed and with a quick catch up story of where all her family was, what time they would arrive and who was bring what. Between ma-ma, Aunt Laura Bea and mama, the buffet was arranged and in place before anyone else could arrive to help.
Throughout the late morning and early afternoon, the other families would arrive. Our glamorous Aunt Frances and her family from South Carolina, the Virginia Clark’s and the Maxwell’s.
As the families arrived and the buffet grew to embarrassing proportions the sounds of laughter would echo through the Elk’s Lodge. Cheeks were pinched, kisses exchanged, hugs enveloped us all and the Clark Family Reunion would be in full swing.
Like other traditions passed down from generation to generation, Uncle Chester would round everyone up when it was time for the feast. Families would encircle the room, all holding hands and Uncle Chester would bless the meal.
Mealtime would find one big family, all mixed together around long tables in fold up chairs, enjoying the foods of our ancestors and recipes from the current Southern Living magazine. Laughing, joking, catching up and reminiscing about the years past and ancestors lost.
After grazing for what seemed like hours, the families would then move to the front lawn, games were played, conversations took place and pictures were taken. Instamatic cameras would be pulled from every purse in the crowd and every configuration of family was photographed. First cousins, second cousins, immediate family, family with grand parents, grandparents with children, grandparents with grandchildren…. pictures, pictures and more pictures. Creating memories that would carry us through to the next year’s reunion.
After a long day, after the last picture was taken, the lodge was cleaned and the last hug exchanged we would once again pile into the Bonneville. Stuffed bellies and empty dishes but most importantly complete, filled with shared moments, family traditions and the love of extended family.