Family Reunion

“Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”  Deuteronomy 5:16
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We had our McKinney Family Reunion yesterday.  My dad was one of ten children and every single one of those children had children.  That means I have a lot of aunts and uncles and cousins.  There are actually a few McKinney cousins I couldn’t easily identify. The McKinney family is big.  And I am sure to some a bit intimidating.  But to me, they have always been the essence of family.  I’ve always found love and comfort being part of them.

When my grandparents were alive and healthy, we all saw each other almost every week for Sunday dinner at Grandma and Grandpa’s.  Being one of the older grandchildren, I remember that time.  Most of the younger cousins never got to experience it or have no memories.  Grandma and Grandpa’s house was on Island Ford Rd…. remember where Moore’s Buds and Bows used to be, behind Ingles?  Prior to all of that, that was my grandparent’s house (I still resent that shopping center being built there!)  The house looks smallish now, but it always seemed  really big to me back then.  On Sundays food would be everywhere in the kitchen and the dining room….everyone would sit…well, I’m not sure where we all sat.   The front porch was very popular.  We’d end up eating wherever we could find a space. But I don’t remember that ever being an issue. No one went hungry….unless by choice!

I remember sitting on that porch listening to the conversations of the adults.  I remember making perfume out of the roses from Grandma’s rose bushes.  (Or trying to.  I never understood why putting the buds in water never produced the same smell as the flowers themselves.)   I remember chasing lightening bugs….and June bugs….and climbing the apple tree in the back yard.  Not too high…. heights were not my friend even then.  I remember spending the night with Grandma, waking to bacon frying and a big breakfast (we were a cereal and toast family at home, so it was always a treat), and then for lunch going to Hickory for hot dogs at Fred Shell’s.  I remember when my aunts Dana and Tena were in high school and watching them roll their hair with the biggest rollers you have ever seen.  Maybe it was juice cans.  Regardless, I couldn’t wait until the day when I got to do the same.  Well, until my mom put sponge rollers in my hair for the first time.  I learned quickly rollers were not the thing for me!  I couldn’t image bigger and harder rollers being used!

I remember sitting in the den where the piano was (you remember, that room where no one ever went!) and staring at the wall trying to figure out where the body of the deer was, whose head was on the living room wall on the other side.  My uncles told me it was back there.  I never could figure it out.  The wall just wasn’t wide enough…..I should see part of it.  It never occurred to me that they were pulling my leg.

My  cousins, siblings and I would challenge each other to run in front of the TV screen and see if Grandpa yelled at us.  He did….most of the time.  That was our bonding time with Grandpa.  I remember giggling and giggling as I ran through that room.  Yeah, you would think after raising 10 kids he would have mellowed and could take that in stride….but the mellow only happened in the very last years of his life.  We drove him crazy.  And yes, that makes me smile even now.  But he married the perfect woman in my Grandma.  She was his polar opposite.  Nothing ever seemed to get to her.  I never remember impatience from her.  She would see us running, know exactly what we were up to, and quietly giggle herself.  I have no memories of ever seeing her angry.  She took everything in stride.  My mother will tell the story of coming over to this country to marry my dad (she was from a quiet family of three daughters in South Wales) and my uncles (Harold and Farrell, I believe it was) chasing each other around the house with knives.  Scared my mom to death.  My grandmother’s response was to not even raise her voice, but to say “Boys, put the knives down.”  And they did.  They knew the strength behind the quiet demeanor.

Your family is different than friends.  You choose your friends, God assigns your family.  While it is not always fair, while it may not always be good or healthy, while they may not always be the people you would choose, we’re placed where we are for a reason.  For a purpose.  I am quite fortunate with the family to which I was assigned.  My siblings are some of my favorite people in the world.  I love and support them, and I know they love and support me.  My parents are great…..they have loved us, taught us, worried about us, and released us as adults.  I think they did their job well.  I look into their faces, and the faces of my aunts and my uncles, and I see a lot of who I am.  These are the adults who were assigned to love me, to stand by me.  To help make me a better person.  Some were there constantly, year in and out, some just for a season or two.  But I can tell you how every single one of them has shaped my life in some way.  My cousins….especially those close in age….add texture to the mix.  Some I feel particularly close to, some I don’t know well.  Those adopted, the step cousins, the cousins by marriage….they are all part of the plan and an important part of who we are.  They are all part of what makes our family work.  The unit is functioning, whether it always functions well or not, whether it is functioning on all cylinders.  It always works best if all the units are engaged.  If they aren’t, the machine doesn’t work as well, but still can chug on and produce good stuff.

Most of the McKinney family is loud and opinionated and freely will give you advice.  I’ve always liked that.  At times I suspect those voiced opinions have led to hurt feelings and alienation by some members of the family. I never was privy to exactly what went on and still don’t understand. It bothered me for a time, then I realized that time wasted worrying about such things is simply time wasted.  Those who feel wronged should state the offense to the perceived offender.  They should work it out.  In life in general, but especially in a family.  If they choose not to, they carry the issue around with them and it can be a heavy load.   The alienation stays and festers.  Often we let misdemeanors against each other become life sentence crimes…..why is that our choice?   All I know is that such choices take away precious time….keep us from what we should be in each other’s lives….and people suffer from the alienation. 

Oh, how our family has grown!  Now we have the next generations.  I have nieces and nephews, great nieces and nephews, and my cousins have children and grandchildren.  Many don’t carry the McKinney name, but they are part of the canvas.  They carry the connection, the McKinney history.  They have inherited good and bad.  I hope they see those of us who are adults grab hold of the good things that we have been handed, and replace the bad with better. I hope they never grab onto the “family isn’t important” mentality.  Because done well, family makes up a group of people who are there to lift you up when you do well, and catch you when you fall.  They may then dropkick you into next week to teach you a lesson, but when that is done with love consider it a gift!  They didn’t choose you….but yet they love you anyway.  Even when that love requires work.

It’s a pretty cool thing to look around a room and know that while Paul and Lois McKinney are not on this earth, their lives still impact ours every single day.  We are their legacy.  I have inherited my grandpa’s outspoken ways, but I believe I have also inherited my grandma’s restraint and strength.  (On my maternal side, I think I have inherited my grandsha’s spirit of contentment and my nana’s critical spirit. But Nana taught me how I don’t want that critical spirit to develop, so I am trying to learn to use it for good and not for making me and everybody else around me miserable!!!)  And their looks….a quick glance around the room at the McKinney reunion and you saw the same faces, with a bit of a mash-up here and and again!  You can’t deny the common blood running in some of our veins.

I am sure that my grandparents never thought about how far the family tree would expand beyond them.  But it grows and grows and twists and turns and some branches fall off and others grow fuller and fuller.   I love that Paul and Lois McKinney are part of my life even today.  They are the cornerstone of my family…..and from them I received the gift of many other family members that I can share life with today.  They were responsible for giving life to my dad, and in that they made my life possible.  I’m grateful for family……and for union and reunion.  I appreciate those to whom it is important, those who make it a priority.  If we allow ourselves to be a part of that crazy unit called a family, we are rewarded with the richness of history….. and we fulfill some of our purpose on this earth.  If we don’t, I think we miss out on some of why we were created.  And when we don’t fulfill our purpose, we miss out on claiming some of the greatest joys of life.

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