Might be a long one, but I know I need the reflection. And it’s totally relevant! Remembering the past to direct the future is definitely a principle of increase. This weekend was our family reunion.
My grandmother came from Starksville, Mississipi. She was a part of the mass exodus of blacks from the south to Chicago that started around the 1920s. She left the south, like many black folk, for the prospect of less Jim Crow, more freedom and the chance to acquire for gainful employment. When she made the move, she was young. I don’t know how old, but probably a teen. She came here with some siblings, with whom she remained very close until her death. They came and set up shop. Some stayed, some left, but she remained up North.
No matter what she was doing, she always made the time to go back south. She would hop in a car or van and make the 12 hour drive, sometimes alone, sometimes not, to Mississippi. She had to check on family and friends down south. I’ve heard stories where she purchased land, trailers for the land, let relatives live there and so on. Sometimes she’d go back and connect with nieces and nephews who where the result of her “adventurous” brothers. Let’s just say they were some fertile men! Now matter how far removed or the involvement of her bothers in their child’s lives, she’d take everyone in as family. Sometimes they’d come to stay with her in Chicago as well. My dad has memories of them always going down south even since his childhood. From Mississippi they’d bring things like pecans and chow-chow (pickled cabbage.) We have great cooks in our family, so also brought were recipes for delicious things like collard greens, hot water cornbread, and fried chicken. On the route home, Granny would always stop at a favorite gas station to get fried chicken and potatoes. She also fancied black walnut ice cream, I believe from the same place. By the time my siblings and I started going south with them, we’d pass through Boomland in Missouri for food and cheesy souvenirs. It was the highlight of the trip and still remains as such today. (This time around I really enjoy the pickeled Amish goods and jellies.)
This trip sparked a lot of reflection. It brought up themes that my grandmother must have dealt with going back and forth to her two homes: the one for survival and the other more sanity and sense of belonging. As we traveled down the highways, I noticed the Native American names for campgrounds, counties and the like: Pascagoula, Okatibbee, etc. reminded of the the displaced peoples who once took inhabited the land. It was still a very beautiful place with lots of trees and striking red mud. Until this day people still live on the land in a way that is much more attached than their Northern counterparts.
We drove along roads where Confederate flags were prominent. It made me wonder about what my granny and her family went through in the South during the early 1900s right on through the early 1960s. It seems like no matter how much money they made or how they advanced in life, there was alway the stinging pain of institutionalized racism that reminded them of what was yet to be accomplished for blacks. Thank God for where we are today. Although the struggle is not over, much has been done.
Along the Gulf of Mexico we could see beautiful beaches and rebuilt homes from the devastating effect of hurricane Katrina in 2005. There were 400 homes destroyed in Pascagoula, and almost 300 had been rebuilt! Talk about triumph and overcoming. Even out of the remnants of destruction and pain, a new, beautiful start is possible.
I thought about the legacy of being a good family member. One that would make it a priority to see and help family. To be there in times of need. Over the years many relatives had passed. At this reunion, one of my cousins had recently lost her mom. It was her first reunion without her. She reflected, cried and went through a lot, but the family was there with comfort and great stories about her to ease the pain with light hearted memories. That’s why family is important. We networked, told great stories about what we had in common, what we didn’t and how we were making life better for ourselves and ultimately the world. We found out how to support each other’s hustle, children and pursuit of the American Dream through hard work, faith and selflessness.
As a youngster, I outwardly shunned these events, but as I get older, I relish them. My children love to go because of the nice hotels and pools. In fact, they think Mississippi is one big swimming pool! But, I like the idea of showing them the importance of family, connecting and belonging. In a world were rejection and dejectedness in inevitable, it’s nice to know that you can always go home and connect. It was a blast being with family this year and I am looking forward to many more to come.