Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Front Row People

The Hunter family reunion. It has been a strong, clannish Scots-Irish tradition since long before I was born. They took place long before a family photo at these occasions also became a tradition. Aunts and uncles, cousins and cousins of cousins, all gathered here with us at the old home place each summer. It was an occasion to bring your best casserole and your best dessert, fried chicken, banana pudding and all the best of mouth watering goodies. We looked forward to Aunt Fielda’s macaroni pie and chocolate pound cake, Aunt Mary’s blueberry yum yum and my sister Fran’s seven layer salad.

Most of the out of town folk stayed with us. The more the merrier; sleeping on a palette on the floor and giving the grown folks our beds. My cousin Mary Anne and I always got into trouble for laughing and snickering after all the rest of the house was asleep. The harder we tried not to laugh, the harder it was to hold it in. We would hear my father’s feet hit the floor and each step he took sounded like a bass drum as he made his way toward us. It was too late to pretend we were asleep. He would no more than get back to bed after giving us the “speech”, than we were at it again, holding our hands over our nose and mouth, face buried in a pillow and bending over double with silent laughter.

We didn’t notice the hot, humid days without air conditioning. The mountain breezes were cool and quiet. The older cousins were beginning to have boyfriends and girlfriends and some had married and begun families of their own. It was a happy time, a carefree time and a time of wonderful smells. The mountains had their own special smell, the creeks had their own smell and the smells of all who cooked the special dishes filled the air of that special time. There was also the smell of that special cousin who had just begun to use after shave and cologne.

The oldest Hunters, my mother and her sisters and brothers would sit in lawn chairs in the front row for the photo. Five girls, three boys and several of their aunts, uncles and cousins of the Hunter lineage made up that row.

I remember once a very long time ago, my granny was there. She was a short, gentle woman with gray hair tied at the nape of her neck in a bun. I loved to comb her hair. That was a very special time for me. Her belly would jiggle up and down when she laughed, and she loved to laugh. The top of her apron was hidden in that wonderful secret place underneath her sagging breasts that had nursed 8 children. That wonderful secret place where she gathered my head close and tight when I was hurt or when I was crying. The smell of talcum powder, soap and camphor are there today in my memories. Whatever caused the hurt or the crying was not important.

Behind the front row gathered the children and grandchildren, husbands and friends. Over the years, some of the husbands changed, and then the husbands of the front row people began to die. Over the years, the children and husbands of my generation began to die. Some were lingering, agonizing illnesses and the Hunter tradition of sudden death plagued one period when we had 9 deaths in our immediate family in 3 years.

This year, the last of the front row people left us. She was the last of my mother’s siblings, my Aunt Joncie.

Her death made me sad, it left me bewildered and it left me to realize that now….

I am a front row person.

Written by Judy Ricker