For those families that gather regularly, or only once a year, the road back home is relative not only to distance, but as I find now…in years.
This is for those who like to assemble with loved ones – who like to reminisce.
It’s for those who let neither distance or time stand in the way of reuniting with those who mean the most to us; of paying respect to those who paved the way and set the course for that we value with highest esteem – family.
It was, this weekend, the occasion of the Fulks reunion, in Lawrence County, Ohio…the yearly gathering since the late 1940s of all my kin. Once centered on the family farm in Scottown, Ohio, as the family has spread to the four corners of the earth, so, too, has the reunion itself. Someone once wrote that it’s hard to come home, and so I realized this weekend for the effort that many had to make – and happily – for the sake of simply…coming home!
My original core family amounted to my grandparents, Dillon and Sylvia Fulks, and their ten children – Charlie, Norma, Glenn, Jeff, Claude, Ross, Leland, Dan, Joe, and Frank. And to enrich things more…our reunions always included cousins from extended family, Grandpa’s sisters, nephews and nieces.
Time has not changed that, but time has changed the human landscape. Once a joyous occasion to see and hear the hunting stories from Uncle Charlie, to play catch in the yard with Uncle Joe – to share fresh-cut watermelon and laughs over fishing in the old farm pond – there are more empty seats around the table now than I like to accept. That fact alone makes it a long way home for me.
For others, it’s sheer distance. My cousin John, a Baptist missionary in Africa, made it back for the first time in a decade.
Cousin Charles, who lives almost as far away, brought his family from Hawaii. It was the first time I’d seen him in twenty years.
Others came from Arizona, from Florida, and Tennessee.
But like homing pigeons, we all came back to Scottown to reunite and share the common bond of being family.
I spent the night Friday with my cousin Dan, an insurance man in Jackson, Ohio. After late-night of sorting old photos, and watching fireflies and the stars like we used to as kids, we arose Saturday to pots of black coffee and an open agenda.
“What would you like to do before we all get together?” he asked.
“Let’s drive the ridges and the hollows, the roads I used to know so well,” I said after considering. “I’d like to travel those roads again. And let’s go to the cemetery.”
“Sure,” he said. “It’s a good way to spend the day.”
Armed with one last cup, and the “Best” of George Jones on CD, we set out on state route 775, traveling through Rio Grande, through Amish country, in Patriot, and eventually to what the locals in Windsor Township call ‘Greasy Ridge’.
We passed the old homestead of Dan’s maternal grandparents – and the church where his great grandparents are buried in the yard.
We passed the homes of old school mates, many who have passed on, or moved away from the area long ago.
We passed an old country store where as kids we’d go to buy grape Nehi sodas…for a dime.
And eventually, we came to the family burial plot, the hallowed ground of the Fulks family…in the Perkins Ridge Church cemetery. It’s there where ‘Dill’ and Sylvia now rest…along with Uncle Charlie, Uncle Joe, Uncle Claude, Aunt Gladys, and my cousin Steven.
It’s there where school mates like Al Dunfee now reside – the same Al Dunfee who once drove a motorcycle up the front steps of school and through the front door.
We took pictures. We always do, as if a moment frozen in time with the departed so near, but yet so far away. But not really, as we smiled and remembered.
Under a azure blue sky, the ridges and hollows were beautifully brilliant with summer wildflowers and blooming mimosa trees. The creeks, where we once swam and attended baptizings, flowed timelessly – Symmes Creek, Rankins Creek, and Guyan Creek – as they made their way eventually to the nearby Ohio River.
Old familiar dwellings, where once we laughed with friends and the elders of the community, have burned, or been replaced by new and unfamiliar buildings owned by unfamiliar (at least to me) names. In some cases, only a tree, rock, or other landmark, marked the spot we remembered.
There aren’t a lot of people in Lawrence County. There never were, really. And those that were worked hard to make a living. Some had dairy cows. Some had truck farms, and raised and sold vegetables. Nearly every farm raised tobacco. Not anymore.
“We haven’t seen a tobacco patch all day,” said Dan, shaking his head.
Jobs in nearby Ironton, Ashland, and Huntington are gone, too, as the plants and steel mills closed in the past quarter century. The hospitals and Marshall University are two of the biggest employers in the entire river valley.
And as the jobs left, the sports scene that we once followed so closely as kids has changed, as well. Ironton, once the football mega-center, is no longer king, replaced in recent times by nearby Wheelersburg…and Fairland High School basketball, in Proctorville.
We agreed, Dan and I, that it was indeed a long way from what we had known and cherished not so long ago…just a mere forty years.
And yet, when we gathered for dinner at a nearby community center outside Huntington, none of that seemed to matter. It was, as one said, as if time had stood still. There were the same smiles, many of the same familiar stories, old babies now grown, and new babies that sadly I won’t remember as babies the next time I see them.
We showed slides of the 1963 reunion – of gorgeous old cars, and gorgeous old people that we now smile over…and miss.
I had to leave early, as obligation and work pressed for its own priority. But I’d like to thank my cousins, Connie, Kaley, John, Wendy, Charles, Claudia, Mark, and so many others for making it a day that stands out among all the others. The drive home, four hours up route 23 and 35 to Dayton and on north to Miami County, was long, and frankly, somber. It seemed, indeed, a long way away from home.
But not so far as Africa, Hawaii, Florida and Arizona, where Fulkses now reside.
And not so far as to keep us away from Scottown again next year, and beyond. “Remember who you are,” my dad used to say. And without saying, every Fulks seems to know from where they came, as well.
Every year…since 1947!