It didn’t matter whose house we all showed up to, but on Labor Day weekend each year, you could expect to see family and maybe a few “old family friends”, catch up on gossip and then go home a few pounds heavier from all the food that was brought in, satisfied and happy with the reconnection of family that weekend.
I cannot recall the very first family reunion that my family attended but over the years are many memories of seeing cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents on my mother’s side. My grandparents ended up with 8 children and by the time you got the 8 together along with their spouses and offspring, believe you me, wherever we all ended up staying, there was not a quiet moment spared. I can recall my immediate family being one of the first to arrive at my grandparents home and as the adults would catch up on family gossip, the kids were running around seeing what we could get into staying just on the edge of not getting into trouble. It seemed the family reunion was not complete until my Uncle Bob and Aunt Linda Kennedy showed up. Most of the time they were the last ones to arrive because of the long road trip from Houston, TX to Grenada, MS. There was always an air of expectancy as we watched through the windows and doors waiting for cars to pull into the driveway as different family members arrived on Labor Day Weekend. Most of the time, we would gather at my grandmother’s house and then somehow we would end up going to an aunt’s house or a community center for the big dinner that was always planned for Sunday.
One of my most cherished memories, is coming into my grandmother’s home where you would see most of the brothers and son-in-laws glued to the television over a football game or my grandfather’s favorite sport…..wrestling!! I would start down the hall to go to the bathroom and my grandmother would be standing in the hall with her finger to her mouth or grabbing me and yanking me behind her as she stood hidden next to the doorway of the bedroom which was across the hall from the bathroom. It seemed that as everything settled down the sisters would all pile up in the middle of the bed for some “girl talk”. I chuckle with merriment remembering my grandmother Lola Pearl Johnson Kennedy sneaking up to the door to listen in on the conversations of her offspring. Many, many times, she just could not help herself and would startle the sisters by poking her head around the door and yelling, “What was that??? What was that I heard you saying???”, then walking away from the bedroom with a grin like a cat who had just eaten the canary having the knowledge of what and who was being talked about among the sisters with them none the wiser.
Another memory is watching my mother and aunts sitting around a huge pile of clothes. This was the time of sharing the “hand-me-downs”. Clothes were passed from sister to sister, cousin to cousin. Most of the clothes that were passed around were ones that had been sewn at home with very few store bought articles within the mountain of clothes. Every once in a while, you could hear a sister exclaim, “OOOOH I brought this here last year!!! Who brought it back this year???” The clothes were divied up and the new “hand-me-downs” were then bagged and put into the respective cars to be taken home along with the promise of some returning again the next year to be passed down to the next person able to wear them.
Most of the time our family reunion was held in Grenada, but there were a few times, as my grandparents began to age, we would go to Coffeeville to an uncle’s home or to my Aunt Mirrell’s home in Parchman, MS for the big Sunday Potluck Dinner. Yeppers!!!! You heard me right!!! We would have our big get together at the Mississippi State Penitentary!!! Uncle Edward (Aunt Mirrell’s husband) worked at the prison and they lived in one of the houses on the compound. If you have ever read the book by John Grisham, “The Chamber” you will irrevocably get a complete, accurate description of Parchman in the opening pages. Most of the time, my aunt would have a “trustee” at the house to help cook for all the family coming in. I remember my aunt having to lock up the after shave, vanilla flavorings, mouth wash, and knives when they would come over, but as time went by she got lax in “locking up” for the guy we called “Lemon” became more like a member of the family as years passed. Lemon could cook the best steak and gravy. To this day, I can remember the flavor and tenderness as the steak fell apart with just the touch of your fork. When my grandmother arrived, among the laughter and stories and jokes, we could hear her preaching to the “trustee” fire and brimstone in hopes that she could win them to the Lord. Many years later, after Lemon was released from prison, he brought his family to visit my grandmother and to thank her for the impact she had on him turning his life around. I know there were many others that would come to help my aunt cook, but his steak and gravy will always stand out in my mind as I remember him. It also never failed that some time during these great “get-togethers” that someone would sit down to play the piano and you could hear the old southern gospel hymms being belted out as one by one of the family members would gather around to sing harmony. Many, many hours were spent around the piano, with the family musicians taking turns to play the piano for all who wanted to sing.
After my grandparents passed away, the children carried on the tradition my grandmother had started many years ago a few times. I don’t know if it was the feeling of loss with my grandparents not here, sickness within the family, or if it was just the faster paced life we all live now that basically terminated the yearly get together. It makes me wonder as to how many that remembers these family reunions miss these times like I do. Maybe this isn’t one particular physical place that I can put a finger on to describe, but it is a place in the heart of family, reunions, and friends gathering together reinforcing the strength of what family is about.
We now have what we call Kennedy Cousins Reunion, one of my cousins started many years ago, with hopes of keeping the Kennedy family together thru history, stories, and “don’t forget the food!” time in Iuka, Mississippi. This year it will be June 25, 2011 at the community center in Iuka. Be prepared to hear stories, eat good food, and just be with people who have at least one thing in common – The Kennedy Family that came to settle in east Mississippi.
Below are a few pictures of the William Dolphus and Lola Pearl (Johnson) Kennedy family reunions: