Everyone’s happy memories of days past, even though they were decades ago, will always appear as being more recent events. Actually it always appears that the happier those events are; the more recent they were – or at least in our memories. We can certainly say that about one ancient ritual of summertime: our family reunion.
Back in 1956 – when I was just 5 years old and my grandfather had died just 10 months earlier– my aunts began a long-lasting ritual on the second weekend in August that became known as the Beacham Family Reunion.
It was held at the home of my aunts, Tina and Ruth, on Everett Street with the main dinner beginning on Sunday after church.
You see my great grandparents, William K. and Manizor Beacham came to Laurinburg in the 1870’s and became parents to 16 children, and many of them stayed pretty close to Laurinburg. Yeah, we had some that eventually moved to South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and even Virginia, but Laurinburg was home, and they came home the second weekend in August.
As the Beacham clan gathered on that Sunday and the adults began talking, laughter soon followed. Any small child seeing his or her adult family members socializing and happy will leave with warm secure feelings and beautiful memories that last a lifetime.
Through the eyes of this 5-year-old the family reunion meant discovering just how many cousins I had, especially in my age group and perhaps a few years older.
We had the big galvanized pail of iced, homemade, real lemonade back in the days before instant mixes, and another galvanized pail of iced tea. The food was legendary as pretty much everyone brought a covered dish from home — or so we thought: fried chicken (from at least eight different home cooks,) country ham biscuits, fresh vegetables, casseroles, and a smorgasbord of desserts that were not only a fantasy to a child, but adults as well.
Most of us ate under the pine trees or in the shade of the the funeral home tents, but some went inside where the osculating fans kept the air moving in the days before air conditioning.
After dinner (as the mid-day meal was called) the ladies went to the kitchen to clean up and retired to the living room or front porch to talk, the men retired to the den to watch a baseball game on TV or remained under the shade trees to talk, the young girls retired to a bedroom to talk girl talk, and the young boys went next door to the McQueens to play softball in their side yard. Throughout the afternoon the lemonade and tea pails were gradually emptied as the afternoon heat rose.
Ten years later as a teenager, the family reunions remained a big event in August, sometimes drawing just over a hundred family members. Bottled soft drinks gradually replaced the tub of iced lemonade, aunts Tina and Ruth air-conditioned their home so more happened inside, and I observed some events that always made the event successful: several of my aunts in the local area along with my mother spent several days before the reunion cooking hams, turkeys, fried chickens, vegetables, and desserts to assure that those coming from distant places didn’t have to worry about bringing anything but their family. I must say that we still had at least half dozen different types of home fried chicken and no one would dare bring precooked, store-bought fried chicken. Many of us ate pieces of each of the different chickens just to see who cooked the best.
Some subtle changes were also noted during our teen years: some older members of our family died, and some in the Baby Boomer generation were attending with their fiancées or new spouses. Big changes were in the wind.
By the time I reached middle age, or about 40, the family reunion was on the severe decline. All of the oldest generation had died and many of the next were following. My mother and Aunt Tina had died. Of the 10 children in my father’s family only five remained. Aunt Ruth and Aunt Matt did their best to do the cooking once done by at least eight, and it was just too much for them.
In 1993 we moved the reunion to the church fellowship hall, and the following year we attempted to have it catered. 1994 proved to be the final year. The older generation could no longer carry forth, and the younger generation had no inclination to follow.
Fifteen years of void and emptiness followed on the second weekend of August.
As 2010 came to a close we lost a family member of my generation. Within the next 11 months our family had lost two members of our parent’s generation, two more members of my generation, and three members of our children’s generation. At each funeral I heard the same words spoken by other family members: “We’ve got to stop meeting like this!”
On the second weekend of August, 2012, 64 family members arrived for the “new or revival” family reunion with a catered meal. A year later — or last year — 74 attended the reunion held at a family member’s home at Mason’s Cross Roads.
This year we’ll gather Friday night at “Laurinburg after Five” for a concert by The Tams, and Saturday morning we’ll be at Mason’s Cross Roads where the youngest generation will swim and discover their many cousins. Some will pitch corn hole and all will enjoy a delicious meal that is both catered and home prepared.
There will be fried chicken, country ham biscuits, vegetables, salads, and desserts.
The next generation will bring their fiancées, spouses, children, and infants, and my generation of the Baby Boomers, now the oldest generation, will once more visualize their cousins and friends as they were nearly 60 years ago — but now sharing stories of their children and grandchildren.
We’ll not only arrive from the southeastern states, but also from Spain, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Stories of how Bill, who was a Commander in the US Coast Guard ran interference between the US and Soviet Navies during the Cuban missile crisis are now replaced by stories from other family members of the wars in the Middle East.
Another generation, another era, but still possessing the same strong family bonds that always make family reunions amongst life cherished moments will be present. As we watch the youngest generation play and swim with their cousins, we can’t help but wonder: “What will happen when it is their chance to step up?”
The sense of having a close family is too sacred and precious to ignore, and may they catch and possess the true value of not only having an extended family, but the fun and precious memories of the traditional family reunions.
Beacham McDougald is president of McDougald Funeral Home and Crematorium in Laurinburg. He serves as vice chair of the Scotland County Highland Games, on the Scotland County Tourism Development Authority, and is the founder and liaison of the Scotland High School-Oban High School student exchange program. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.