We just came back last night from a family reunion in Heavener, Oklahoma. My mother’s maiden name was Haynes, and she had eight sisters and four brothers. That means a lot of cousins, aunts and uncles and other relatives for me. In addition to the Hayneses, her mother’s maiden family, the Stacys, were there, as well as another family that I am not related to in the least.
My sister, who was one of the organizers, told me that they were expecting 300 people. I don’t think that many showed up, but there were quite a few. We were originally going to meet in the civic center for the tiny town of Howe, Oklahoma, but when their air conditioner went out, the gathering was moved to the Reinhardt Fire Station. Initially, I thought the fire station was also in Howe, and we got lost getting there, but eventually we made it. As my kids would say, it was pretty much “out in the sticks.”
We ended up caravaning up to Oklahoma from Texas in two vehicle with 9 people: six adults, one nine year old and two irrepressible four year old boys. With that many people sitting in two cars, we were concerned a bit about the interpersonal dynamics, but the two boys wanted to ride together, and surprisingly, they got along well. I drove down to Austin on Thursday and picked up my cousin and her two kids. Friday we drove back up to my house in Cleburne, gathered up my wife and daughter, and drove the six hours to Heavener.
When we got to the reunion potluck on Saturday, as I expected, I recognized about 10 percent of the people there, even though I was related to many of them. But I did see many cousins I haven’t seen in 20 or more years, two of my sisters were there, and my Aunt Ruby.
In reality, the reunion was for Aunt Ruby. She’s well into her 80s, and is the last remaining sibling from the original Haynes family. She had called me up a few weeks ago to make sure I was coming, but then also told me that she had Congestive Heart Failure, and wasn’t sure whether she could travel from Oregon. But she was there with her two daughters and her granddaughter. It was great to see her, especially when they starting performing live music and she danced with her granddaughter! (Later my son Matt had a chance to swing dance with her at our hotel, which I know he will remember for a long time.)
Saturday night a few of us gathered up on a house on top of a ridge overlooking Poteau, Oklahoma, a nearby town. Dr. Shirley Haynes, another one of my cousins, owns the house but mostly lives in Florida and Colorado. It was humid, but the view was breathtaking. We spent several hours up there, talking with family, wrestling with nieces and nephews, and just enjoying each other’s company.
Yesterday morning–Sunday–we needed to leave early, but before we left, we visited two cemeteries–one with my grandparents’ grave, and the second with my great-grandparents’ grave. the nine-year-old was apprehensive about visiting the cemetery until Melissa, my daughter, explained that knowing about one’s ancestors helped us know more about ourselves, our family, where we are from and where we are going. Then she got excited and looked forward to the experience.
I had a strange, contented feeling on the way home last night. The last family reunion of this sort had happened in 1978. We hadn’t gone because my wife was busy having my son, Matthew. Thirty-five years later, we gather together again. Of the original 13 siblings, only one was there this weekend. But their offspring still come together, whether the original Haynes family is there or not. I think of the tombstones I saw with the names of parents and siblings. And I think of the four year old boys running around my feet, climbing onto my shoulders. Will there be another reunion in 35 years? If I am still alive, I will be 94, the official old codger. The world will be different, but the family will still remain.
It makes one think, doesn’t it?