West Virginia summers boast many special occasions, but ones that are truly heartfelt celebrations are the many annual family reunions and homecomings that bid journeys from several states and offer families ways to learn about their ancestors and piece together their pasts. Even before the epic "Roots," generations of mountain settlers have known the value of clan identity and visiting.
Through the next few weeks in every grove and valley West Virginians will be getting reacquainted with others of like heritage. Often held at an old church or school the original family attended, the picnic gatherings are day-long affairs with many wonderful foods and pastries that are samplings of popular family recipes. All use their memories about everything but what their diet books tell them.
The reunion journey has its own stories as places of interest are pointed-to and travellers hear of vintage events. The old streetcar tracks are always a focal point to us where nine children made their way to Weston to school after trudging snow by foot two miles to get their ride.
Additionally, we pass the old schoolhouse still standing where my grandmother not only taught eight grades at once, but was given a little extra money for serving also as the custodian. She arrived early each morning to start the stove's fire and remained each evening to clean the floors.
Many who attend our reunions come from other states. Employment opportunities were always better in Ohio and Pennsylvania, so jobs were sought there. I am always intrigued by the speaking accents of those so familiar, yet, different-sounding from natives who are present.
It is a challenge to learn names of the newly-born. Since most families began with several children, today's grandchildren and great-grandchildren are many and names and ages are not remembered easily. Many reunions have lively ballgames to involve both the young and old. Young stars are encouraged to continue developing their skills.
Another afternoon activity enjoyed by many is a dip in the old swimming hole where echoes of children's laughter may still be heard by those on floating intertubes. Swimmers learn that they still must be wary of the ornary relative who wants to tip them under the water.
Health problems are shared by the groups and family members not only provide moral support, but in many cases take-up monetary collections for expensive health needs or determine times they can be of assistance.
As well as family get-togethers, the community homecomings also have summer dates set aside for visiting, eating and discussions about land ownership issues, taxes, or water concerns. Often, the group's outdoorsmen will share stories of their large fishing catches or bears their dogs treed.
In a world where it is often easy to feel detached and distant, these reunions promote a desired comradery among those who have common bonds. The family or neighborhood association reminds members that they are not alone and that ancestral spirits remain among the living.
When return-home journeys take place, a little sadness seeps-in. One never knows if they will see some of their family members or friends again. But the day-long visit also provides a sense of pride, as one knows they were part of a special time of togetherness-a time with those who helped them to remember those essential to success.
Whoever would have guessed my great-grandfather's small dairy farm would be the beginnings of my second cousin's Washington, D.C. career with White House Communications?
Take the opportunity to attend a summer reunion or consider starting one of your own. Some postal cards, addresses, and a place to meet is all one needs to initiate this event. Rewards are immeasurable.
As John Denver sang the words, "Hey, it's good to be back home again. It's like finding a long, lost friend." Enjoy hillside beauty and those folks who will always be part of your life. Be lifted by their laughter and love.