It’s Memorial Day in the US. This day and this weekend mean a lot of things to a lot of people.
First and foremost, Memorial Day is meant to be a day that’s set aside on our calendar to allow us, as a nation, to remember those who have given their lives in defense of the freedoms that we so often take for granted. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to be about.
For a lot of folks, it means a three-day weekend and a chance to have a cook-out with family and friends. Eat more than our share of hamburgers and hot dogs and drink more than our share of sodas and beer. The American way.
When I was younger, and for a lot of my young life, Memorial Day weekend meant something different. I mean, of course it meant honoring those who had given their lives in service to this country. But it also meant gathering with family that I rarely got to see or even know throughout the rest of the calendar year.
I’m not sure in which year the tradition began, but at some point in the late 1980s, my dad’s side of the family began holding an annual family reunion in the Nashville, Tennessee area. The Peck family reunions were put together by the three patriarchs of the Peck family. These were three brothers who included my grandfather, Earsel, and my two great-uncles, John and Ralph.
Now… I could get some of the history wrong here, so to any of my extended family who happen upon this blog, feel free to correct me. But also forgive me for any mistake…
Ralph was a retired police officer and was a member of the Fraternal Order of Police. Therefore he had access to the FOP lodge that was… somewhere… just outside of Nashville. I’m gonna go ahead and admit that my knowledge of how to navigate the Nashville metropolitan area is extremely diminished.
Anyway, the Peck family would converge on the FOP lodge every year on Memorial Day weekend. Three branches of this family tree and we would jokingly refer to FOP as standing for “Family of Pecks.” Seemed fitting.
The property had a bunk house where any or all of us could spend the night and, in the early days, we definitely did. Most of the day time was spent in the main building that had a kitchen and a large dining hall. There were also a couple of different swimming pools, a basketball court, and an old caboose for some reason.
As a kid, I remember looking forward to these weekends and remember how much fun they were. The first time we went (which was actually the second year of the reunion), I remember meeting family that I never knew existed. I had no idea that my grandfather had two brothers up until this point. Had no idea that they had families, meaning my dad had cousins who had more kids that were around my age. Up until then, I only knew about my own cousins and my own dad’s siblings.
See, with the extended family, we got to see the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, just about every year at Thanksgiving. They’re the ones we were in regular contact with throughout the year. We all did birthday cards and Christmas cards. Maybe even planned a visit or two if the timing was right. But it was still hard because Dad’s family was so spread out in those days.
We, of course, lived in Virginia. My grandparents lived in Nashville, as did their daughter, Dad’s sister, Nancy, and her family. Dad’s older brother, Richard, and his family were in Huntsville, Alabama. His younger brother, Russ, and his family were just outside of Memphis for a lot of years before they, too, moved to the Nashville area. So to visit family meant a lot of travel.
Those Memorial Day weekend reunions allowed us to catch up, not only with Dad’s family, but with all the others that we really only saw at the reunion.
In recent years, the reunions haven’t been as big. Our three patriarchs have all passed on, leaving the next generation to take on the planning and execution of any reunion that could be possible. Gone are the days of everyone making the road trip to the FOP lodge to sleep on uncomfortable mattresses in the bunk house and sit under a ginormous tree on Saturday afternoon reminiscing about the things my dad and his siblings and cousins used to get into when they were kids.
My sister relocated to Nashville several years ago. She’s there this weekend and was able to participate in a smaller scale reunion that was hosted by the family of one of Dad’s cousins. I was able to look through some of the pictures that have been posted to social media and, honestly, there are so many faces that I just don’t recognize anymore.
In the years since those patriarchs have passed away, I’ve often found myself wondering about those old family connections. I’ve found myself considering the reality that I may never see some of those individuals ever again. And I don’t just mean the extended families of my grandfather’s brothers. I mean my own first cousins… my aunts and uncles… people I’ve spent holidays and vacations with…
Sure, it’s sad to think that, as we get older and grow apart it becomes harder and less realistic to expect that we can get together like we could in the “good ol’ days.” And while technology has helped to bridge the gap created by the miles between us, in some ways I’ve never felt further away.
I miss those reunions. I miss the 8-hour road trip from Roanoke to Nashville. I miss stopping at the random Stuckey’s for a bathroom/Dairy Queen break. I miss playing with my cousins and second cousins. I miss standing by the grill while my dad and uncle would flip burgers and I would pretend to be helpful. I miss sitting in the shade and hearing my grandparents tell stories of when they were younger. I miss being a kid who couldn’t wait to grow up to bring his own kids to these reunions. I miss the possibilities that came with youth and thinking about the future. And sometimes, I just miss my family.