Family Reunions Help Preserve Legacies

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Even though local temperatures have been soaring in the 90s and even into the 100-degree mark, on June 21, we formally observed the first day of summer. And with this season we see so many families having their annual summer reunions, one of the most exciting times of the year.

During spring, fall, and winter, our work weeks proceed much the same way, but for so many families, we plan all year for a summer family reunion. Sometimes you reserve a destination site, where everyone can drive equal to bring family members together. Other times, a grandparent or great-grandparent serves as host to everyone and the kids will camp out in sleeping bags on the floor, or outside, and everyone learns to count on going to their house each year.

Many families enjoy long-standing traditions and favorite rituals for a summer reunion. Large families might even have committees to coordinate site selection, getting the word out, coordinating food, hotel or lodge reservations and drawing maps. Other families even have t-shirts made for the annual reunions. I’ve always enjoyed hearing about family reunions from people, many of whom include those photos in our video tributes for loved ones.

Family reunions offer a perfect time, in happy and relaxed conditions for multiple generations to visit. The senior members of our families hold the key to our ancestry. Who married whom, where and when. Who were their friends growing up, the towns they lived in, what your great-grandparents used to do to make a living. Every single one of these details, when you’re a child, seems like “old days” and you tend to just listen and forget. But, the adults can cherish every story, because one day, they’ll be the seniors there and responsible for passing on the family history.

The family reunion is a nonthreatening place to record and preserve your loved ones’ descriptions of their histories. What I mean by that is that when a gently aging senior citizen starts getting a lot of questions about the history and circumstances of their early years, they might get the idea you think this will be the last chance to ask them that question. You don’t want to offend anyone who could have that possible concern, but be aware that the sooner you ask about family history, the more comfortable a family member will be about sharing it.

Recently we had a graveside life celebration service that had over 30 members of a family come together to pay tribute and it was really a beautiful gathering. Many family and friends spoke and reminisced. Afterwards the family gathered together for some group photos and I guarantee you that five or ten years from now, the family will prize those pictures like gold.

Photographs, or images that you store in the cloud, are the link between the past and the present. The only thing better than “just” photographs is to have an audio or video memory of the history of your family in the words of the seniors who are passing down their recollections.

Stop and think for a minute—what would you give to hear the voice of your great-grandfather? If you are lucky enough to have old tintype photographs or maybe have access to correspondence carefully preserved through the years, back when people wrote long letters to one another and put great thought into what they shared, that is a kind of “voice” that is key to the past of your family history.

Did your great-great-grandmother have a sense of humor? Who is (so far) the oldest-living member of your family? Were there children lost too soon? Who in your family served in the military? Who were farmers? Who came over from other countries several generations ago with perhaps a change in spelling of the last name?

Each one of these questions can be answered by those family members seasoned enough to remember “back when.” Even if you don’t have access to a tape recorder to get a voice, someone use a smart phone and video your family talking about the good old days. Better yet, take the time to plan to share memories as part of your reunion.

I’m constantly meeting people who come to us and say, “I remember your dad, Mike” and “I remember your grandfather, Raymond,” and that makes me feel great. Occasionally I even hear a new story about them to add to my current memories. Recently, at services we held here at Callaway-Jones I met Bryan residents who I’d known casually from living and working here, but I’d had no idea that they were high school classmates and friends of my great-uncle, Manley.

That was an amazing and special service for me. I saw people, newer friends and acquaintances, in a different way. I didn’t see them as how they related to and with me. Instead I saw them through the eyes of my relatives, as young men and women in their high school days, and my mind kept going back to “What was life like growing up in Bryan in the early 1950s?”

This past weekend, I learned another great story about my grandfather from a family whose dad was an Aggie underclassman after my grandfather had graduated. Just to hear the stories and the laughter about the good ol’ days of Aggieland made me start imagining him in his Corps of Cadets uniform, or his combat fatigues, spending time with his classmates and fellow Corps members. Friendships forged six decades ago have remained firm over all these years. That’s a sign of the times.

If we all must stay, as we are, glued to our phones to live, work and community with those we love, let’s be sure to use them to capture priceless memories this summer. Whether it’s a formal family reunion you have or a 4th of July cookout, save the images and remember the stories. It’s your family’s history and it’s yours to preserve.

 

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