GIBSON — Helen Graham has known her fair share of hard work.
While other mothers may have made a tradition of celebrating the holidays with their families, Graham, a mother of seven, was toiling to make sure her children’s most basic needs were being met.
“I’ve always worked and supervisors would not let me off on holiday so I never had time for my children,” said Graham, whose jobs included mill work and as a caregiver at local rest homes. “As a single parent, I did the best that I could.”
When she retired in 1993, Graham vowed to make up the lost time with her family.
She began what she called Grand Kids Day just before the Easter holiday in 1996 and the family reunion has been going strong ever since.
A bevy of 19 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren returned to Gibson this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Grand Kids Day.
“They finally let me be off on an Easter so I decided why don’t I have something to enjoy my family?” Graham said as numerous youngsters raced around her large yard. “This thing has continued to get bigger and bigger.”
Graham said she wanted to leave her heirs something more important than money or things. She hopes she has given them “a sense of family.”
“When I’m gone on to be with the Lord, my children can say what a beautiful thing that she did for us,” Graham said.
The lesson does not seem lost on any of the generations celebrating with Graham.
“It is important to our family because it has become a tradition, said Graham’s daughter Wanda Morris, who now lives in Rocky Mount. “Once your family gets older and moves away at least you know your roots are here in Gibson and it is important for families to stay together.”
One of Graham’s granddaughters, Valencia Waterman, said she plans to carry on the family get-togethers.
“Even when my grandma is gone, we still want to continue this tradition,” she said. “Too often when families are together like this, it is for funerals or soemthing sad, but to be able to come together and be on one accord, to have fun and laugh … for me this is an awesome time.
The event began in the mid-1990s, when Waterman was a child herself.
“I think it is important that our own children see how important family is,” she said. “At the end of the day, family is all that you have.”
Graham’s 9-year-old great-granddaughter Kailynn agrees.
“It is a day when you get to see all your cousins and aunt and uncles,” she said. “It is very special.”
Milton Graham said when his mother first mentioned the idea two decades ago, he thought it was “a beautiful thing.”
“I’m so thankful to have my mother and to have this time we are all together,” he said. “She instilled in us the importance of family and the importance of a work ethic. Those things have made us all better people.”
Helen Graham said she is looking forward to the 21st Grand Kids Day, “if God willing.”
“To say I enjoy this is not the right word,” she said. “I love it. I love it. I love it.”