I texted my friend that I couldn’t attend the event at her house on the last Saturday in July. I said, “It’s Byrd reunion day.”
She said, “Of course! I remember now.”
The earth rotates on its axis and orbits around the sun, and the Byrds gather again. Starla wrote in Granny’s obituary, “One of the things she loved most was the annual Byrd reunion.”
Until about 20 years ago (when schools began returning before Labor Day), the reunion was the Saturday before the second Sunday in August. Daddy Byrd was a Primitive Baptists preacher. They had church on the first and third Saturdays and Sundays each month. They didn’t have services on the second Saturday. So, that is the day we flocked to their house.
Mama Byrd died early in 1970, and Daddy Byrd died later the same year. At his last reunion, Mike told me that he said, “Don’t y’all forget to get together after I’m gone.” Last weekend, we honored their legacy for the 49th time.
I’m going to whisper to you a great regret of my life, so lean in close: I don’t remember them. The memories I have of them belong to other family members . . .
Family members who show up year in and year out bearing fried chicken, fresh peas, blueberry delight, and the same stories to tell.
Family members who celebrate life at weddings and funerals and who snatch the new babies from one another (“It’s my turn!”).
Family members who grieve nightmarish heartbreak together.
She was 13 when they married. He was 15. They bore 11 children. Coy died as a young man. Lucille died as a toddler. Two lie buried somewhere with no names. I wonder if Mama Byrd had names for them in her heart.
Cecil, Gladys, Mattie, Mary, Effie, Johnny, and Jo Bell lived to old age. Golly, the women could argue. Over absolutely nothing. And hold grudges. For ages. And pull everybody into the fuss. Golly, they loved each other.
I want to peek into that poor household. I want hear the bickering and the laughter. I want to know why we still love each other a half century later. I want to know why I consider myself a Byrd woman when I am two generations removed.
Mama told me she cried as Mama Byrd died and prayed, “Lord, I want to be like her. Make me like her.” Kim told me, “Aunt Lanell was able to check me out from school, because my mama always worked. I would pretend to be sick, and she would come get me and take me to your house and fix me a banana sandwich.” Lanell and Kim were first cousins but a generation apart in age. Mama didn’t have siblings. She told me her first cousins were her brothers and sisters.
I think we all have a touch of her hospitality. I think we inherited our feisty personalities from him. I imagine she had much spirit underneath her kindness. I imagine he had much gentleness underneath his passion.
We hug. We touch. We hold hands. We get teary when we say goodbye. We look each other in the eyes and say, “I love you with my whole heart.” We peck sloppy kisses on cheeks.
Late Saturday afternoon, when we got home from the reunion, my 21-year-old son asked me to diagram the family tree for him. He wanted to fit together the faces and names he has always known.
Perhaps I remember Mama Byrd and Daddy Byrd after all.
Celeste King Conner wants you to go to your family reunions. Tell her about your people at email@example.com.