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Capturing love and laughter in a jar

Susan Epps, Community Voices • Jun 17, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Every year on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, my dad’s side of the family has a reunion. The Best Family reunion. Seriously — it IS the best, but Best is actually my grandmother’s maiden name.

The daughter of one of my great uncles, Adeline, and her husband, CE, have hosted the reunion at their home in the Crabtree community in the mountains of Western North Carolina for as long as I can remember. Adeline and CE built their house on a parcel of land that has been in the family for, well, forever. It’s in the shadow of the old home place, where my cousin Janet lives. The roads bear the names of other cousins. If you’ve never been there, you’ll just have to trust me when I say that it’s a little piece of heaven in a holler.

My dad was one of seven children and his mother was one of seven, so there are a LOT of people who show up. Before we eat, we stand in a circle, join hands, and count off so we can record how many were there. I admit, I can’t keep track of who belongs to which of my grandmother’s siblings, so I just refer to everyone as a cousin. It’s easier that way. My brother, Lewis, is the keeper of the family tree information and he can tell us exactly who is related to whom and how, but I just know we’re family.

Sadly, Adeline passed away a couple years ago but CE continues to open his land and home to Best relatives from near and far. While I’m usually not one for gatherings where I don’t really know people, I look forward to this one. I can’t wait to see my “Russian cousins,” Mason and Dillon — the two boys cousin Sherry adopted from, yes, Russia. I think this year they are going to be taller than I am. I can’t wait to hear what cousin Monica, author of “Being Ugly: Southern Women Writers and Social Rebellion,” is up to now. She’s brilliant and my IQ goes up just being around her. I don’t like tomatoes, but I like to see the heirloom ones cousin Bill Best brings from his garden in Berea, Kentucky.

I look forward to the pictures we take by generation. We’ve been doing this for years, but it still blows my mind that my brothers and I are the youngest in our generation and that we have first cousins who are almost the same age as our parents. Sometimes it gets confusing to figure out if we have everyone in the right group, but in the organized chaos there is laughter and there are jokes and it gives a visual to the phrase “one big, happy family.”

My boys have grown up going to the reunion, playing badminton in the yard with whoever else wanted to pick up a racket and birdie. They take a football and each year have to stand further apart to throw it, although I think they had to watch it a couple years ago when they realized they couldn’t throw it as far as they wanted to because we had a “visitor” from the hayfield at the edge of the yard and neither one wanted to go after a ball where the huge black snake had come from.

We walk to the pond next to the home place and look for fish. Every now and then someone brings a fishing pole. And we talk. Oh lordy do we talk. And we eat. Oh lordy do we eat. The entire two-car garage is full of tables laden with food. Casseroles, vegetables, fried chicken, desserts, and if you’ve never had the concoction with onions, peppers, Thousand Island dressing and Fritos, you have no idea what you are missing.

CE must have the ear of God because the weather on this particular Saturday is always spectacular. The green of the mountains against the brilliant blue of the sky is enough to make you just sit in awe of how this place could exist so close to I-40 and Walmart and 24-hour gas and mini-marts. For a couple hours one Saturday a year, time really does stand still in Crabtree, North Carolina. If only we could capture the love and laughter from that day in a mason jar like fireflies — it would light the world.

Susan Epps of Johnson City is an associate professor in East Tennessee State University’s Department of Allied Health Sciences.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed by all Community Voices columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the Johnson City Press.

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