Slavery is a historical event that folks, both Black and White, still do not feel comfortable discussing. The reasoning can be the guilt or the shame. Some even think it’s that dead horse that’s been beaten into a sticky paste. But come on, y’all. We should be evolved in our thinking to be able to have an open and honest discussion that examines this true, albeit less than pleasant, aspect of American History. It can’t always be about we Americans charging up San Juan Hill (and even some people somewhere have hard feelings about that as well), so let’s just get over it. With that being said, I would like to talk about slave families. Yes slaves, before being brought to this country, had families. After tragically being separated from them, the enslaved had to reestablish their families in the Americas. As you know, on that plantation, anything could happen. There was always the possibility and probability of them being sold away from their families. Again, I cannot imagine the pain husbands, wives, parents, and children felt about being separated. No wonder we hold our family reunions in such high regard.
You know how we do. We pick a destination and meet in the summers with our matching t-shirts. Because you know Black folks like putting everything on a shirt and if you try having a reunion without a shirt, all ugliness will ensue. Trust me on that one. And we bring our best food, because a reunion is not a reunion without some good eatin’. Unfortunately, I missed the reunion for my father’s family, which is my novel, Marshland is based. But my husband, boys, and I did travel through four states, trekked over the Smokey Mountains, through the Shenandoah Valley, navigated the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and sat in I-95 traffic to arrive in Wilmington, Delaware. The fact that the reunion for my mother’s family was in Wilmington became a running joke between my sis and me. One of our favorite episodes from The Cosby Show, called Off to See the Wretched, entailed Vanessa and her friends sneaking off to Baltimore for a rock concert. But the first stop on their night of “Big Fun” was at a donut shop in Wilmington Delaware. When Claire Huxtable found out about her daughter’s deceit, she goes in. All the way in. And I have memorized every word of Claire’s rant. See here. And of course, for my sis and me, finding these Wilmington Donuts became part of the “Big Fun” agenda, while my sis and I were at the reunion.
Well unfortunately, we didn’t find any donuts, but we did learn some good lessons about family. My father explained that it had been easier for families to get together when he was young because they all lived closer together. With each generation, he explained, families began living further apart. Therefore it takes more of an effort for us to get together. I saw what he meant because it is at the point now where family reunions have extended beyond attending the cookout in Great Uncle Joe’s backyard or at the neighborhood park, wearing our t-shirts, and playing the O’Jays’ Family Reunion in the background. Now there are family reunion executive boards and committees. I think some families are even incorporated or have established a LLC. I mean family reunion are getting that serious. And that organized. It’s like going to the conference for my sorority or the American Planning Association. We even have business meetings at ours. I’m waiting for there to be plenary sessions one year. I certainly hope not, but that’s the direction it’s heading.
I don’t know about anybody else, but something always sticks with me when I return from my family reunions. This year, my cousin’s presentation on our family history, for one thing. I’m not as versed with my mother’s side of the family as I am with my father’s. And I regret that. A lot of it has to do with what my father spoke of – the distance. I wasn’t in a place where I could sit down with the elder on my mother’s side and learn all of the folklore. Fortunately, my cousin is willing to help me with that. The other thing that I took from the Wilmington reunion wasn’t the donuts. It was the fact that I had my family who was willing to go searching with me to find them.
P.S. My husband has just informed me that we actually traveled through five states…