Sunday, July 9, 2017


Henery Edward Newman & Siblings- L to R -Etta, Henry, Myrtle, Pryor B, Lucy, Sam, Bessie, Uncle Brick, & Loraine

Left to right:  Aunt Eddie, Uncle Bud, Mammaw, Uncle Peabo, Aunt Lu, Uncle Sam &  Aint Bessie (twins), Uncle Brick and Aint Lo    One brother Uncle E passed away as a young father, in 1929   I made this picture with my Brownie camera in 1958, the last time they were all together.

Today marks the 1200th post on LAWN TEA, and as most have been, it’s mostly memories.

There’s just something about Summer that always reminds me of Family Reunions.   The familiar-yet-seldom trek over blacktops and through the Sunday-morning sunshine beating down on the sleepy little towns on the way.   That last long gravel road, with the dusty foliage almost brushing the doors of the car---I don’t think I ever went out there once, without the windows-down, minutely-microscopic grit of road-dust between my back teeth.  That hill-dust was different, somehow, from Delta dust---ours would billow out behind your car, but you could still SEE the car.  Hill dust grew as you went, into this opaque screen obscuring road and landmarks, and marking your passage like a great tawny-red bubble floating down the road.

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Then there was the first glimpse of the weathered green roof and the old silvery board-and-batten of the house which saw ten children raised and out into the world.   The house was on a little rise, surrounded by a good hardy grove of trees, but with only one big old window-fan in the house, and the heat of the day beating down on the big dusty yard, we had an annual glimpse of the REAL feeling of the place where our Mammaw’s Mother and Daddy built their first home. 
The only picture I know of the original house, with Great-Grandma Romy on the left+ and eldest daughter Aunt Eddie center, holding her two baby sons. Clockwise above:  Uncle Peabo, Uncle Bud, Uncle E, Mammaw,  twins Uncle Sam and Aint Bessie, then Uncle Brick and Aint Lo.  Aunt Lu is the one in gray at Mammaw's elbow.

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I can still smell the ingrained wood-smoke in the living room, with the huge crocheted 48-star Flag sagging its weight over the unused-in-decades fireplace, and the saggy-butt old couch and chairs with the prickly flocky velvet.   Uncle Peabo and Aunt Katie last lived in the house, as I remember from my teens, and were in residence til they passed on.  I assume that there was eventually an indoor bathroom, but the old cistern-for-wash-water and the stovepipe well were still in use when we were last there in the early Sixties.    

Not our cistern, but photographed by my dear friend Janie at Southern Lagniappe

I used to love going to those old gatherings   Sometimes I’d make three pound cakes on a Friday.  And have a new scratchy dress for the festivities on Sunday---somehow you just didn’t wear comfortable Summer clothes to a Reunion.   Well, some of the young City Cousins, more avant garde than we in every respect, especially in THEIR minds, sometimes did---all pool-tan and comfy in cotton shorts and sleeveless shirts, but it was incumbent on “our side” to maintain a ladylike decorum. 

So, while everyone my age was up trees or running headlong-can’t-stop down the grassy hills of THE OLD HOMEPLACE, I was setting tables and fanning flies away from the watermelon and watching after babies.   My kinda fun.

Everybody brought those aluminum-frame lawn chairs---the ones with the seats like they were made of stiff seat-belts, light and collapsible for transport in those wide-trunked Chevvies and Fords, along with the big Igloo coolers and quilt-wedged gallons of sweet tea.   Aunt Lo always brought a single gallon of her pickles---a vinegary jug of  naked cucumber slices floating like strange pale cogs in a yellowed aquarium.   How we kids crowded around her as she set down the big wide-mouthed jug, and how we hovered like the small bees drawn to the brine.  We understood their allegiance to the stuff, as they floated and drowned in ecstasy in the spill-over pool created by dip after dip of our eager spoons. 

The tables were always planks laid on sawhorses, with well-cloroxed sheets spread on, with one big one for the food (always organized, by Southern Command and Sovereign Decree, by plates and silverware at the end, and a succession of meats and casseroles, then bowls and pots of vegetables, followed by cold stuff and salads.  Desserts would be spread in a grand array, already cut by careful hands beforehand, to avoid mess AND clumsy swipes of knives and spoons by the inept.   Somewhere hovering between salad and sweet were the “congealed salads,” those inevitable Tupperware bowls and molds of anything you could rightfully stir into Jello.   The choice of whether it WAS one or t'other was up to family custom, and breezily accepted by one and all as “just their way”).
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The laughing and talking and hugging and catching up were a mighty thing to behold---all those descendants of the same little couple married so young, and she a widow so soon, with ten children to raise.  The meetings-at-car-doors and long lookings down the drive for faraway kin, coming all the way from Memphis and Alabama and that long bus trip from Indianapolis for the farthest-away sister were moments of anticipation and relief, and the greetings and shouts across that familiar  yard were probably far beyond any childhood noises the elder generation playing there ever made---all ten of them together.

 The brothers and sisters were all hearty laughers and mostly loud talkers, as were quite a few of their own offspring, and it was a wonderful time of gathering.  

With our own seven now scattered into seven states, it’s an absolute given that we’ll not gather that way often, and never in the heat of that Mississippi past, as we’re all-but-one gone from there now, moved all around the country, with our own lives to carry on, and so many miles, so many miles.   Only a very few of our now-family have ever been to that Old Homeplace, for the house was torn down in the seventies after it had stood sagging into Time for many years.  The only remnant of that little farmplace was the yellow brick of the chimney, salvaged by Daddy when the new owners tore down the house, and used to cover one wall of the sunroom in our own family home.  I used to stand at that wall, running my fingers along brick and mortar, wondering where in the structure of the chimney was this piece of my history I was touching, and what wars and tears and family celebrations IT had seen as it warmed my kin, cooked their food, dried their clothes, in the century-and-more since it was molded and laid.  Now that childhood home, too, has been sold to other folks, yea these twenty years past.  

 I wonder how many memories remain to the cousins of my generation, how many tell their children of that old spot where it all began, how many remember the Aunts and Uncles, how many have only the small pixel quilt-patches of strange faces and forgotten names on hive-sites where family histories are kept and shared.   Sis keeps “our” site, doing the research and the annotations and computer work, keeping the dates and facts in order.

And I only jot down memories, adding them to the trove of information and history, hoping I’m not the only, not the last.


donna baker said...

Oh Rachel, I grew up with few family members and have cousins I don't know nor their name. Never been to a family reunion. But, I am happy to be here for your blog anniversary.

Latane Barton said...

Oh my goodness, what memories you dredged up from my innermost mind and heart.

Patsy said...

Happy Blog Anniversary!
Like you it is all about memories, funny how we are so much
alike with our family's over the years. We are typical America.
The last of us I am afraid, after my children there will be no
more family like ours. I can see it in my grown grandchildren.
Their children know very little about their great grandmother's
or great grandfathers. Aunt or uncles most live far away. Some do not
speak to each other.I have grown nieces that never see me or communicate
with me. No reason they are just in to their life.
All of my family are gone from this life. So we are the last.

Chronica Domus said...

Congrats on reaching such a lofty blog posting anniversary. That is a LOT of posts!

I adore your writing and it always draws me in, as though I'm there too. Wonderful stuff! Oh, and those “congealed salads" you write of, well, those.... what can I say. I was first introduced to them long ago at a family gathering at my American mother-in-law's country house. I had never seen anything like them in England so they were a real novelty to me. Brightly colored and chock-full of unidentifiable "bits", I didn't quite know whether to eat them or stare at them.

GSL said...

Oh to have been fortunate enough to have pulled a folding chair up to a spot at a planks strewn cross sawhorse table with the pressed Clorox sheet pulled snug across. I have had enough Southern Exposure to know how true this lovely set piece rings and enough high toned Literary exposure to appreciate how beautifully it was written.
I'd bet my bottom dollar 'Lady Like Decorum' reigned supreme whenever and wherever your impressive matrilineal line assembled....the men folk could only have become a fine sort knowing how lucky they were.
Bravo Dear Rachel !!!

BeachGypsy said...

This is one of my all time favorites you've posted!! Congratulations on all the posts too! This one brought back lots of memories for me as well---the food, oh my gosh, I had almost forgotten about the jello "salads" which were more like dessert where we were---full of whipped cream and cream cheese and chopped up walnuts and pecans, and fruit of course. We also had to ramble down a VERY DUSTY country lane, with gravels but not enough gravels to stop the dang dust! That was the way to my Grandma and Grandpa's house. They had a porch swing and I loved to sit in it after dark and hear the crickets and the frogs down in their pond croaking up a ruckus. That was about ALL YOU HEARD---maybe a far away dog bark once in awhile. It felt safe and peaceful. I love reading your posts, and your vivid memories----they stir my own vivid memories!

Anonymous said...


Kim S. said...

So glad that you are posting these wonderful memories. This is exactly the kind of thing that I want to put on my blog (whenever I get back to it).

I always wanted to be a part of a family that did family reunions. My dad’s family was too small for them. My momma’s family all lived within a couple of blocks of each other (except for momma and me) and were in and out of each other’s houses every day. Except for a couple of snooty great aunts who lived in Little Rock and only deigned to visit every 10 years or so, we got together so often for impromptu chili or shrimp feasts that reunions were unnecessary. But I dreamed of country homes filled with cousins and fried chicken and ham! And a table of desserts.

Anonymous said...

I went straight back to the 60's and 70's and the smell of the summer air and dust, the feel of that Cloroxed and sun-dried white sheet. The color of the sunshine and feel of the dust stuck to sweaty skin. I miss those days of simpleness. And, as you were describing the order of the food layout, I was picturing the last Baptist Buffet at church - and it was exactly the same! Some things never change . . . and I'm glad :-)