Most families have colorful stories that get passed down from one generation to the next. In my family, there is the one about my great-grandmother who allegedly crossed the Arkansas River in a covered wagon as a baby, across the frozen river. No bridge was available, or so the story goes.
Then there's the other one we can't authenticate, due to conflicting census records (according to my brother, the family genealogy geek) that says my great-great grandmother's father was a native American Indian (tribe unknown) who took his wife's name after marriage (John Kelly) and who disappeared at some point and was believed to have been murdered by a pair of "maiden aunts." Nobody is really sure whose aunts they were, but they apparently then raised my great-great grandmother.
This comes to mind because that segment of my family, descended through the Hardin lineage, will come together again in September for our annual family reunion. This year, in addition to barbecue, gossip, and photo-taking, we plan to produce a family cookbook, complete with recipes, photos, history, and anecdotes. None of us is getting any younger, and in fact, everyone from my grandparents' generation is gone, with just one exception, so before we lose any more history (or memory), it's time to start documenting.
The project started as a simple collection of recipes, but my cousin Sharon was unable to generate much enthusiasm. Then last year I foolishly volunteered to coordinate. Now that I have started to seriously think about it, and after reading this great article about reunions and family history by the legendary former Post-Dispatch writer and editor (and now Beacon editor) Robert Duffy, it has become something else. Something bigger and, admittedly, much more ambitious.
There are stories I think we need to tell, both the ones we can't substantiate and those we heard firsthand. My grandmother really did pick cotton during the depression, and she did so with the most recent baby (she had five) nearby so she could nurse if the baby needed her. My grandmother also repeated eighth grade, not because she was held back, but because there was no high school and she wanted to stay in school. As the first-ever college graduate in my family, that story in particular always brings tears to my eyes.
Our family is both better educated and more affluent than it was 50 years ago, which means that much like other families, we are increasingly spread out. Most reunions see only a smattering of each generation of each branch. Every time I go, however, I am astonished at how many children under the age of 10 there are to whom I am genetically related.
For the past four years, my daughter has been away at college and unable to attend so this will be her first one in as many years. She will be bored. She will beg me to leave after an hour. She has better things to do (I can hear already). No doubt she is right. She and her sibling did not grow up in as close proximity to my maternal family as I did. As kids, my siblings and I spent summer vacations hanging out with cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents. We went to the homes of second cousins for family get-togethers fairly often. We had about 15 first cousins. My kids have two (on my side).
Someday, there will no longer be a sufficient number of people left who are interested enough to go to all the trouble of organizing this huge event we call the annual Hardin Family Reunion (named for my maternal great-grandmother, Laura Jane Hardin). It is already a shadow of its former self. Someday, too, my children will be older and they may have kids and grandkids who may have questions about their heritage. I'm hoping the Hardin Family History and Recipe Book will be there to help, so that they too can hear the story about the maiden aunts and the Indian named John.