December 5, 2008

"Playing" Church at the Family Reunion

I'm seeing twenty-odd young cousins, ranging from toddlers to teens. A large, extended, musically-gifted preacher family all converging on Uncle Doyle and Aunt Helen's central home from Indiana, Texas, California, or wherever we'd scattered.

We're talking road trip here. Air conditioning was all the windows rolled down blowing hot air on your face till your eyes dried up, creating a permanent squint. That is, except for the window Mom needed rolled UP to hold the diaper over the glass to shade the cranky baby so she could sleep (on her lap - there were no car seats). From the Willamette Valley, we'd drive to Prineville to spend the night with Uncle Paul's family, then get up before the sun to head for Utah - in one day!

When we arrived, all we wanted to do was lay on the cool grass, and of course, eat, and eat, and eat, and play with our cousins.

Hot summers in Utah in a small house with few beds, small rooms, one kitchen, and ONE BATHROOM. The spill-over arrivals actually got to sleep in the church basement! Ah, the perks of being the preacher's kin! I was so thankful for that cool cement floor, and not because I appreciated a good nights' sleep. That just wasn't important at 7 years of age!

What can a group like this do to entertain themselves? We played church!

Grandma taught us a few songs, and cousin Steve (dared not call him Stevie again till after his twenties) was our preacher. He led us to Jesus again and again... He was genuinely good!

Grandma played the piano while we sang our "specials": Rocka my soul in the bosom of Abraham..., and It's me, it's me, Oh Lord, standin' in the need of prayer... I have to say these songs were not my father's favorites (still aren't), but they did a lot to unify a bunch of hot little children in August.

When we gathered together with the adults, it was for "visitin', meals, and singin'." Each family usually had something to perform for the group - the family song. It wasn't long and we'd be coaxing our uncles to perform their "Ha-Ha Song", and the "Grumbling Song". They were willing... and we would roll on the floor in laughter.

A few years ago, I coaxed them one last time. I flew with my daughter to the California desert to see all of Mom's siblings together for the last time that all five of them would be present, and though two of them could hardly do it, they tried to get those silly songs out - for me. I wanted to take a picture, but I didn't want to spoil the moment. My heart pounded as I realized the significance of this last song. Grandma had taught them to sing harmonies some 70 years earlier, and now I was privileged to hear their last earthly performance together.

There was no sweeter sound, but you know, our NEXT family reunion will be something else!