Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wilson Family Reunion, 2010.

Went to the annual Wilson Family Reunion last Sunday near Belton. Been goin' to these things ever since I can remember.

For instance, here's a shot from the 1970s. My folks are in there on the right, and my Uncles and Aunts (my fathers three brothers and their wives), and me, peekin' over everyone's heads from behind.

You can see here that I still stand a head taller than all the others. That's my cousins Bobby and Larry there (son's of Sam Wilson), John (Son of Johnny Mack, in the vest), and our one remaining uncle, Uncle Punk.

We all come together on the first Sunday of March to see one another and keep the memory alive of our Great Grandfather, W.S.S. Wilson (here on the right). He's the guy who came to Texas in the late 1800s from Alabama. He eventually accumulated something like 800 acres of land, being farmed (cotton) by his son's, as well as many other sharecroppers.

When he died in the 1930s, his second wife sold off all but a little of that land, pocketed the cash and moved to California, leaving her husband's other sons and daughters with nothing. My Grandfather...

The man you see here, got $200 in the will. He was a sharecropper until World War Two came along, and my father sent enough of his pay home from the Army to allow them to begin to make payments on a house. Then, later, they bought a farm near Holland, Texas.

The shot above was taken at a reunion in Holland the 1950s, back when folks used to dress up for such a shindig.

By the time this shot was taken, around 1990, all the brothers had aged a bit. That's Mack on the left, my father, Punk (the youngest), and the oldest brother, Sam, on the right. Punk talked to me this last Sunday, telling some of the same old stories I'd heard before. He said that while his three older brothers would always be quick to defend him, they hated one another with a passion and were quick to fight. I witnessed a little of that years ago, between my dad and his brother Sam. They were both in their 70s, but the sibling anger was still there.

Punk retold an old story about a day back in the 1930s when, as children, they all went down to the river to bathe. Sam kept pushing Punk into the water. He didn't know how to swim, and Sam kept shoving him back in as he got to the edge. He says my dad came up, pulled Sam up and the two went at it. They were both in their late teens by then, but Punk was probably only 6 or 7. He says he tried to stop them, but the anger from years and years was fueling their fight.

Sam ended up with a crooked nose that day, and my dad became the Alpha Male in the group. He stayed there, at least in his own mind, until he'd outlived both Sam and Mack, and aged to the point that his mind began to drift back to an older, easier time and memory. Now I can see Punk doing that. It's as if the past is more alive in him that the present.

Today, the focus of the reunion has begun to shift to my generation. With a few exceptions, like my aunt Betty here (Sam's second wife and Bobby and Larry's mom), and old Punk, we're the geezers now. It's been interesting to see that transition take place. Painful too, but inevitable. There are always a few new babies and/or grandchildren every year, as we all get a little older and our elders become fewer and fewer.

I used to think that once my folks died (Mom is still goin' strong, but doesn't enjoy these reunions), I'd stop coming to these things. I guess I never felt like I fit in that well with all of these folks. They all grew up here together, on farms or in a rural setting here in Central Texas. They all had the slow, stable, rural upbringing that my folks had had.

Mom and dad used to always remind sis and I of that peaceful, happy time as we moved from one Air Force posting to another. Through that telling, and occasional visits, my sister and I grew up feeling both a part of this extended family, and set apart from it. Part of it, through heritage, but really not apart of it at all. We knew these people, but hardly knew them. We found out, as we got older and talked about these things, that we both had grown up desperately wanting to have lived here and had the lives our parents described. We couldn't appreciate the coolness of our own lives in the moment, growing up in places like Bermuda and England, because we were always dreaming about this place.

My sister still feels very strongly that we missed out on something, not having grown up here, but my feelings have changed a bit with age. I still dream about what might have been, but I also appreciate the fact that our travels were a rich experience, one that all my cousins grew up envying. It's funny. They wanted what we had, and we wanted what they had.

Punk said something else to me this time that was interesting. He wishes he'd been older back then, so that he could have been more a part of his brothers lives. He was only about six or eight when my dad left to join the Army in 1942. He wishes he'd been older, so that he could have had more time to grow up with them. I told him I'd had the same feeling.

After years of wishing that I'd grown up here, I now find myself drifting off from time to time, wishing I'd been born about ten years earlier. I could have gotten to know my grandfathers, and taken part in a lot of the fun that I grew up hearing about, but which seems to have mostly ended by the time I was old enough to take part.

So, both Punk and I found a kinship in the notion that it really sucks to be the youngest in the family, but we're both still here. Sometimes, when I look at my uncle, I see myself in 30 years... the only one left, surrounded by folks who don't really know what your life was about, constantly drawn to memories of the past.

That's a pretty depressing notion, but I don't think ether of us have suffered too much. We've both turned out pretty good, Punk and I, and we'll deal with whatever comes, as it comes. What the hell else can we do?

Of course, one of the rituals at the reunion is the pot-luck lunch.

The spread is usually pretty good. Lots of casseroles, potato salads, pot roasts and store bought fried chicken.

Usually Mom cooks some chicken, or something else for me to bring. But this time I decided to do some BBQ pork ribs. They're easy, and I think they turned out pretty good. I think there were four or five pieces left in the end, from what had been two racks at the start of the day.

At about noon or noon thirty, the master of ceremonies makes announcements about those who are there and maybe who's passed in the last year, and then we bow our heads in prayer. It's hard not to get emotional then, but I've gotten pretty good at stuffing my emotions.

Then the line forms and the feed begins. Being by myself this time (Denise was puny and couldn't come), I chose to sit with my Uncle Punk, my Barber...

My cousin Peggi, and her family. You've seen her around here before. She's a sweetie.

As we killed one plate after another, Punk said something about how nobody could ever say the Wilson's couldn't cook. I replied with something like "Or eat ether." Everyone laughed.

After the feed, the crowd slowly drifts away, and the reunion comes to an end. Driving home, I decided to go by the cemetery and visit Dad. That's when the tears finally came. I tried to go visit mom then but she wasn't home, so I called the little woman and headed home.

By the evening, I was ready to snack again, so I nuked the last remnants of those two racks and Denise and I shared them. It was a good day, and there'll be many, many more to come. Cheers.


Anonymous said...

Here's my 2 cents. If you'd grown up here, you'd (most likely) not have become the totally awesome college instructor you've are. You would not have had the cultural experiences, exposure to diversity and adversity, etc., that you've had being a militry brat then working with active duty,family members and veterans (not to mention us crazy civil servants and contractors) as you'd done most of your adult life.Those experiences bring so much to the classroom. An unnamed sergeant about 4 p.m. was telling me how much he enjoyed your Am Hist I class a few years ago. He's back for more and has a plan to take both Govt 2301, 2301 & Hist 1302 with the man who helped him appreciate history, cares enough to allow extra work and stays after class if necessary to help. He says you remind him of a tall Winston Churchill and inspired him to read the autobiography of Abraham Lincoln. Nuff said!! Belton Belle

FHB said...

Thanks Kay. You're a sweetie. I guess I need to hear that from time to time.

You know, I do know that I'm good at what I do, and I'm the guy I am because of what I've been through. But there'll always be a part of me who yearns for, or daydreams about what might have been. But I'm happier now than I've been in a very long time. I've got nothing to complain about.

*Goddess* said...

It's weird but my grandmother held a family reunion every 4th of July and I HATED those get togethers. It was like torture spending the day with family. And yet others loved it. To this day, the mere mention of a family reunion gives me the shivers. Ick.

FHB said...

My mom and sis feel the same way. Dad and I have been goin' to these things alone for years. Denise enjoys it though, but was puny this time.

Mushy said...

Nothing like family...nothing like reunion food!