The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday. I don’t care about fireworks, sparklers, and parades. My affection for Independence Day stems from the family reunion picnics my mother’s family put on every year when I was growing up.
My mother is the baby of eight children. They married, and all but two had children of their own. Several of Mom’s aunts, uncles, and cousins also attended, along with an assortment of close friends of the family. By virtue of the lengthy guest list, our annual picnic was an EVENT.
My aunts spent days preparing food. Plastic washtubs were mounded with potato salad, coleslaw, and macaroni salad. Aluminum foil roasting pans contained baked beans, macaroni and cheese, and green beans. Homegrown tomatoes were a staple, along with an ever changing assortment of desserts.
My uncles manned the grill and supervised the kids. Mostly we had hamburgers and hot dogs. Occasionally, chicken or steaks were served. Whatever was on the menu, nobody went home hungry.
The kids played various sports: horseshoes, softball, volleyball, basketball, kickball, badminton, or croquet. The uncles took turns as umpires, referees, and peacekeepers. Regardless of ability, every kid was a valuable member of the team. Poor sportsmanship simply wasn’t tolerated.
With all the work done, the aunts relaxed around card tables set up under shade trees. Bridge was the game — a bloodsport in our family. The cousins were recruited, as needed, to fill in while someone fixed a plate or took a bathroom break. Later, they drafted cousins when a fourth was needed.
Folks started arriving before noon, with more coming and going throughout the day. Mom, Dad, my sister, and I usually left before dark, but some stayed much later. A few even spent the night.
The last big reunion was more than twenty years ago. Mom’s brothers and sisters are all deceased now; their aunts and uncles are long gone. Several of my cousins have passed away too. The memories of those wonderful reunions live on.
I’m grateful to have grown up in such a huge extended family. Some of my cousins continue the tradition on a smaller scale for their kids, nieces and nephews, and grand kids. If I’m ever in Lexington for the 4th, I’ll stop by — and be welcomed with open arms.