published Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Tabi Upton: The wonder of family reunions

Tabi Upton

When I think of family reunions, my mind conjures images of sitting in the summer heat at a picnic, swatting flies and hugging the necks of sweet kinfolk.

The first and last full reunion I attended was so long ago I think I must have been in elementary school. I blame my aunt for my participation in our most recent family reunion, held earlier this month.

She told a cousin in Huntsville, Ala., that I should help represent one of our ancestors in a speech during the family dinner. I was asked to wear a long skirt and white-collar shirt and to pull my hair into a bun, typical of late 1800s attire.

Intrigued, I agreed to the presentation, thinking, "Hmm, sounds interesting." I wanted to see what might transpire.

My maternal side of the family is originally from the Huntsville area, though now they are spread out coast to coast. My aunt and mother joined me and away we sped to Alabama for an evening with our large extended family. It turned out that about 18 of us would be presenting that night. Our theme was "Connecting the Past, Visualizing the Future."

The first woman who presented, apparently a very distant cousin of ours, did so with the flair of a professional actress. Dressed in slave clothes, she rendered a dramatic speech about being "Lucy," whom I discovered was my great-great-great grandmother. She was born a slave and bore a son by Samuel Arnett. Arnett married a woman named Louisa, and together they bore 15 children.

I represented the first of these, also named Lucy after her grandmother. This Lucy was the mother of my grandmother. Like my grandmother, she was known for cooking delicious pound cakes and salmon croquettes. I learned that the family I had previously only known as "my mother's side" complete with its uncles, aunts and cousins, was called the "Lucy Line" in the big picture of family. Each of the lines was announced and asked to stand at the dinner.

As the evening wore on and each person depicted an ancestor with creativity and personal nuance, I sat back, watching and listening in amazement. Here was my love for story, theater, public speaking, and oral interpretation. I could see the same traits displayed in the playfulness and energy of the all the participants. My mother had excitedly shown me a book of pictures of the family that I had only glanced at before. Now I more fully understood the power and wonder of knowing your roots as I heard the anecdotes and brief histories of these blood relations I had never known about previously. They all came alive for me that night.

Our late cousin, Pat Lauderdale, was the beloved woman who had pulled the family stories together. She'd studied the family tree during her doctoral work, and then wrote as much of the history as she could. She then began organizing our reunions, asking others to spread the word and gather as much history and pictures as they could to be compiled and made into a family history book. Having just passed away a year ago, we honored her at the banquet, for without her, we would not have such a treasure chest of knowledge today. That said, I plan to be in full attendance at the next reunion, hopefully with a host of "Lucy Line" cousins, aunts and uncles in tow.

Tabi Upton, MA-lpc is a local therapist and free-lance writer. Email her at tabiupton@bellsouth.net.

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