Quality Family Time

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

At the root of politics is family.  After all, any dubious bill proposed to the legislature can gain instant credibility by the claim “it’s for the children.”  And without children, there is no family.  That’s why as a childless man I still sit at the kid’s table at Thanksgiving.  It’s a subtle reminder.

This week is all about family in my world.  Last Sunday was the 65th installment of the Benjamin Franklin Harper Reunion.  This Sunday will be mother’s day.  Most quotas for family visiting time for the month will be met by Sunday evening.  Mom will probably still let me know I don’t call enough.  She will still be right, as she always is.

Big Ben was my grandfather’s grandfather.  He had 11 children, including my great grandfather Robert Frank Harper.  Robert’s home was adjacent to the rail line just outside of Fairburn Georgia.  He gave credit for his 21 children to the 5:15am train.  Said it was too early to get up, and too late to go back to sleep.

My grandfather was the last of those 21.  Had he decided that 20 was a quite reasonable number of children to have, you would be reading something else right now. 

The descendants of Benjamin Franklin Harper have been gathering at our family church on the first Sunday of May for 65 years.  The reunion was the brainchild of my grandfather and a couple of his cousins, who lamented that they only saw each other at funerals and needed a happier occasion to reconnect on a regular basis.

As a child, I remember attendance being much more than our church fellowship hall would hold, but a lot of us preferred to eat outside anyway.  Those crowds of 200+ have dwindled down to slightly less than 100 for the past few years, as there are fewer of us left who really knew the generation that started the tradition.

Those of us who carry on do so in order to honor those who gathered to honor them.  It’s a semi formal affair, not by our attire which is quite casual despite the church setting but by the fact that there are officers, minutes of the meeting, and a treasury.  We’ve gotten quite casual about many of those items too, as our officer elections now consist of the line “Does anyone else want this job?”.  It’s the one dictatorship I can claim to have maintained for 5 years or so.

As a kid, I can’t say I appreciated the gathering much.  The deep fried covered dish fare was quite common, and there were a bunch of old people around that I barely or didn’t know.  They told stories about people I had never met.  Some of them were even Georgia Tech fans.

Over the years, I’ve gotten to know them.  I understand how they fit in the family tree, and appreciate those stories as common bonds.  They are where I’m from.  They are who I am.  And I look forward to seeing those who return every year, and genuinely miss those who do not.

One of my cousins missed this year for the first time in ages.  Ed Alvarez is a cousin from the John Hunt Harper line of cousins, and son of Grace whose wit and sense of humor put a very southern edge to the usual definition of the word.  She was fun people, and Ed is salt of the earth.  He has a few decades on me though I have no idea how old he is.  Doesn’t matter, he’s just cousin Ed.

Ed had a rough year, where he broke a hip, had quadruple by-pass a day or two after his hip replacement, and then fell during his recuperation and broke his other hip.  He’s still recovering from that one, and wasn’t able to make the trip.

We did talk during the gathering and afterward.  He missed the fried okra and ham biscuits, but missed seeing his family most of all.  We are, after all, where he’s from.  He was missed, so he’ll have to get a personal visit, which will get me a bit of extra family visitation in for the month.

In the mean time, I need to call my mom.  Sunday is her day.  Though I’m sure she already has the answer, I’ll need her thinking about whether she wants to eat in or out.  If in, I need to do some grocery shopping and finish unpacking the kitchen.  And probably put a note on the fridge to call more.