I just attended a family reunion in South Georgia, my mother’s family homestead. (Homestead is a bit of an overstatement.) My mother’s paternal grandmother extracted her from this tiny town when she was eight, taking her to live in Orlando. I, nor others in my family, ever learned why she left, a mystery which will remain unsolved since my Mom died almost 30 years ago.
My brothers and I returned to Omega virtually every summer, visiting our grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins. We stayed in the “projects” a brick three bedroom apartment building where my grandmother lived. We loved it. My brother and I loved the wide-open spaces; the elderberry jelly canned by my grandmother, which spread deliciously over buttered toast each morning. We loved the old ringer washer she used to launder her clothes; we loved the homemade vanilla ice cream hand cranked on the back stoop on Sunday afternoons; we loved the fact we could make $1.00 an hour cropping tobacco. That seemed like a lot of money to me, especially since babysitting only paid $.50 an hour.
Harkening all the way from Florida, boys thought I was exotic. They wanted me to be their girlfriend. This was intoxicating to a gangly fourteen year old who had few such prospects awaiting her at home. At one point I told my parents I wanted to move to Omega to finish high school (secretly I just wanted a prom date since I thought my options were limited back in Florida). To which my mother replied, “Over my dead body”. It was kind of ironic my mother moved away from this rural environment, yet her daughter wanted so desperately to return to it. These memories were as rich as the red clay imbedded in the Georgia dirt roads on which I learned to drive as a teenager.
My brothers and our respective families traveled back in time this past weekend. It was fun sharing memories with spouses and children. We visited the cemetery in which family members are buried. My heritage and that of my children lay in those plots. My great great grandmother Spinks died at 104, when I was nine. Family legend has it she and her siblings hid in the fields when Sherman marched through Atlanta.
Much had changed- family owned independent stores were now owned by chains; the demographics of the residents have altered considerably, but much remained the same…the beauty of the open spaces; fields readying for planting; the smell of boxwood shrubs; my uncle’s sense of humor, and my aunt’s giant heart.
We spend so much time running from meeting to meeting, checking off to-do lists. This reunion provided an opportunity to pause in the midst of schedules and stress to contemplate our history. Recognizing and acknowledging our origins is an essential component of understanding who we are and who we will become. I recommend these pauses. It’s so easy to resist them. I hope you can find the time periodically to pause even for a minute, an hour, a day or weekend.