This blogpost is about my family reunion. I considered sharing it privately, but then it occurred to me that my family makes up 40% of the audience. So…come along with me to Lincolnton, Georgia and the Nuckols Family Reunion. (Or if you don’t care about my family reunion, I totally understand if you bail on this post.)
It was 750 miles. Shani, Alex, and I hit the road with a stop in Durham to see friends and do some hiking. We arrived the next day at my Aunt Helen’s massive manor – home base for the reunion. There was hugging, eating, catching up. Alex disappeared with his cousins. We lined up for a huge buffet with roast beef and mashed potatoes and grilled jalepeno peppers wrapped in bacon.
My cousin, Max, had bought 100 bucks in fireworks from “Three Fingered Freddy’s” on the South Carolina border, and he set them off in the driveway while kids zipped around on scooters and parents fretted about safety.
We migrated to my Aunt Margo’s house where my Uncle Coddy broke out his guitar. I love his songs, but it struck me as a little sad that it was only him singing. Coddy, Margo, and my father used to play together in the 60s as The Nuckols Trio. They had a regular song list that was a mainstay of reunions when I was a kid. My dad hadn’t even brought his guitar along, so it was just Coddy – which was still pretty fantastic.
The next morning, my Aunt Mary offered to host breakfast at the house she was staying at, but by the time we made it there they were packing up to move to Aunt Helen’s house. So we all migrated with them and bumbled around in Helen’s huge family room.
And I’m going to stop here and make a confession: I was feeling really off at this point. I struggle sometimes because I get so insanely excited for things and then have trouble when reality doesn’t line up. That was the case here.
“Shani, I want to run out and try and buy a new bike chain.”
“Yeah, there’s not that much going on and…”
“Oh,” she said. “OK. I’ll come with you.”
She saw what was going on with me. She always does. She probably saw it coming before we ever left New Jersey.
So here’s the deal…these reunions have shifted. Some kind of tipping point has been reached and it has changed the composition and the cadence. I ascribe this to two main factors:
1) We’ve grown
Long gone are the days when we could all stay in a single house in Albany like we did when I was a kid. Now we’re spread across 10 different houses. When we gather for a meal, we fill up nine 12-foot folding tables. It’s overwhelming to me. I find myself faced with 40+ people that I want to catch up with and only a few days to pull it off. I’m hopping from one conversation to the next like I’m speed dating, trying to check off all the relatives from a giant to-do list.
2) We’ve reproduced
Me and most of my cousins now have kids of our own. Which means the place is littered with rug-rats. Everyone (myself included) is constantly being pulled away to deal with pleading for another can of soda or screaming from fire ant bites.
In truth, it’s not just one reunion. Each family has siblings and kids having their own individual reunion. And all that together makes up our extended family reunion.
Shani and I talked all this out on our drive.
We got back to the Baldwins and there were a few folks milling around. My niece, Brinda, was there and someone suggested a game of Old Maid, which is my opinion is about the lamest card game there is.
My opinion has since been revised.
The game was intensely awesome. It was filled with bluffing, insults, jeering. The tension was thick and wonderful. 10-year-old Brinda was in her glory playing with eight adults. The game was so fun it actually drew a crowd.
Dinner was a buffet of leftovers and people just sort of sat where they could find room. I ended up around a small table swapping stories with my cousins about nightmare stays in motels.
Shani and I slipped out to go to the Kites and within 30 minutes everyone seemed to have the same idea. My Aunt Helen wanted to hear a new song my Uncle Coddy had written, so he broke out his guitar for the second night in a row. Soon everyone was grabbing chairs from all over the house to form a huge circle around the living room. Coddy played a few originals, and then without saying anything he went into the sing-a-long repertoire. The floor in the center was suddenly filled with kids as we sang The Fox, Eddie-Cucha-Cacha-Camma, Tom Dooley, Winkin’ Blinkin’ and Nod.
Then my Aunt Margo was singing.
As I have travelled all over this land
There is just one sad thing that I find
When the wide road calls you must leave friends and all
Leaving a song behind
For a while
Leaving a song behind
Aunt Margo has a husky alto voice that I believe to be the universal voice of warm, smiling aunts everywhere. She was singing the first verse of “One for the Money” which is the song that The Nuckols Trio always closed with.
She went into the chorus….
One for the money
And from the room, the voices of my father and Uncle Coddy answered…
Sing for a penny
Two for the show
Any song that we know
Three to make ready
The wide road is pretty
And four to go
It’s been good to know ya’
And four to go
We’ve a long way to go
And I was crying. My family was stuffed into a huge ring. I saw Alex cuddled on Shani’s lap.
Then came the second verse. Oh, that verse. The second verse is and has always been the fundamental tenant of my family. It is literally one of the core lessons of my life.
Some value money and some value fame
Some value women and wine
But a song and a friend ‘round each turn of the bend
Are the riches I’d rather were mine
Riches I’d rather were mine
Family reunions are funny things. On one side, they are about the past. You are repeating something you did as a kid. Family reunions are some of my brightest, best memories from childhood. Your family is who you are – so these reunions were central to how I thought about myself.
But at the same time, reunions are about the passing of time. You’re checking in and seeing what has changed since the last reunion.
It’s weird. And it’s wonderful once your wife and your niece help you get your head out of your ass.
The final verse goes like this…(try and hear it in your mind as a husky alto)
When I am gone may this song linger on
And its echo fall soft on your ear
May your riches increase and you all live in peace
And your happiness grow every year
Happiness grow every year