Family Reunions

Family reunions are strange little events. You meet these people you never knew existed, but somehow, you know they feel like they have a connection to you. Do they?

Yesterday, I went to the James Elbert Hall reunion in Hickory, NC. There were people I knew there. There were interesting tidbits of information floating around the reunion. But, mostly, it was an event where I felt like I was crashing someone else’s party. The wife said she felt like she was the non-Jew crashing the bar mitzvah for the rugeleh. I get that. There were some people there I had never met, and they certainly had interesting stories to tell.

My favorite part was learning that I am descended from a man named Philo Cecratus Hall. Seriously. That’s his real name. My aunt Sylvia remembers him. He was her great-grandfather. She is my great-aunt, sister of my grandfather. When she was a child, she stayed with grandma and grandpa Hall a lot. She and her aunt Helen slept in the room with grandma and grandpa Hall. Philo slept in the next room down. He was an old man who went to bed early. But, after everyone else went to sleep at night, he would wake up, don a sheet, and begin making ghost noises to wake up and scare the shit out of all the children in the house. This is my bloodline. To my imaginary future child, I issue a warning: This will happen to you before you hit puberty. I can’t help myself. For myself, I remember that my mother used to let us watch horror movies when we were young. She’d wait for a really tense moment in the movie when everything is quiet and suspenseful, and then she’d goose us and yell “boo!” I can’t wait to do this to a child. Really.

At the reunion, Lin and I sat at a table with my grandmother (Norma), my aunt (Diedri – mom’s sister), my brother, Clifton, and my aunt Sylvia. The great-aunt, the grandfather’s sister. We were pretty insular during the festivities. But, I saw my babysitter from when I was a child sitting a few tables over. So, during a quiet moment, I found my way over to her table to introduce myself. “You know, I can’t listen to Bon Jovi or the Bangles without thinking about you.” To which Jennifer replied “Me, either.” Hugs abounded. She’s quite fantastic. She has a 16 year old daughter and a 13 year old daughter, both of whom brought their boyfriends to the reunion. So terribly cute.

After eating, there was music. My cousin Robin is married to a preacher named Tom. I don’t know how far out our cousin-ship goes, though. I remember meeting Robin as a child. And her daughter, Amanda. Her son, Josh, was apparently a hellion who has turned his life around and now sings country-ish music about fishing with his grandpa, my great-great-uncle, Bruce. Bruce is married to Maxine. Robin is their daughter, and she looks just like her mother. When I walked into the reunion, Robin was the first person I saw. She said “Hi, Tammy. You look great!” She was not the only person to call me by my mother’s name that day. In our family, daughters look like mothers. Sons look like fathers. It seems to be a rule in our family’s bloodline. Robin’s son, Josh, began to play his guitar, so Lin and I slipped out for a cigarette. Alvin Hall was out there, as was James Miller. I’ve known Alvin all my life, but not well. I’ve seen him at every family funeral since I was young. He was smoking, too. James joined us and said “I finally found the reject crew.” I understood what he meant when he explained that he had been married four times, divorced three, and widowed once. He now has a live-in girlfriend that he dated in high school, and they are raising her 12-year-old grandson. Families, in my bloodline, are not always so easy to figure out. I don’t know James Miller. I’ve never met him before this reunion. But he is part of me somehow. He is a black sheep after my own heart.

I met a man named Ed Hall who came up to our table to speak with my aunt Sylvia. I introduced myself and we began talking. I also introduced Lin to him. With Ed, who is an architect, and lives in Lake Wylie now, I had two long conversations about love, life, and how most people don’t realize their lives are good until it’s too late. He and I bonded over our realizations that love found us at the right time, and recognizing the amazing-ness of it makes each of us feel like we will die tomorrow because it’s too good to last. We admitted to each other that our deepest prayer is that it won’t end so soon.

As we were preparing to leave, a woman came up to us. Her name is Rella Reid. She set my gaydar off instantly. I had never met her in my life. But, she walked up to me and said, “I just wanted to say that I’m really glad your other half is here. Mine would be here, but she is on call.” And suddenly, I was reminded of how ballsy it was of me to take my wife to a family reunion. See, I live in this bubble-world where my partner’s existence and her presence in my life is just a force of nature, like the sun rising or the wind blowing in the mountains. I don’t think about that world of my bloodline. I don’t think about the old folks I haven’t seen in years who remember me as a small child and think of how I might turn out. Queer probably didn’t enter into their images of my future. There aren’t many queers in my bloodline that I know of, at least. If there are, no one talks about it.

I had forgotten a crucial thing about my family: They are still that crew from in and around Bethlehem, NC whose worlds revolve around the garden, the grandchildren, and the guts to do what’s right. Showing up to the reunion with my wife in tow like nothing was different or odd about us must have felt strange to them. At least at first. By the time they actually met Lin and spoke with her, they knew the same thing I know now: The person God put on earth for you can be found, you just have to accept it. I come from a long line of people who got married and stayed married. We sang hymns at our family reunion, which was held at the church I grew up in. I have never heard a more awful rendition of “God be with you til we meet again.” No one was on key. No one knew that particular tune. But, everyone said “tresspasses” during the Lord’s prayer, and the Amens resonated through the fellowship hall.

I guess I learned one important lesson from this family reunion: My bloodline is strong, resilient, and in love with life. I come from this. I happily accept and embrace it.

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