They say the older you get the harder it is to go home to past places, old haunts, and family…because nothing stands still with the passage of time. But we do it out of honor, and the knowledge that something good can come in all shapes, sizes, and forms.
Let me say…thank you, to all my aunts, uncles, cousins, and acquaintances over the weekend who made the annual pilgrammage back to my southern Ohio roots so enjoyable.
This weekend was the yearly Fulks family get-together in Huntington, West Virginia…and while it wasn’t so wild, like the state motto of West Virginia promises, it was wonderful to see everyone, visit, and reflect on those family members no longer amongst us.
I wish I could say differently…but time can be not so kind to your memories of times, and places, and people who’ve had a formative influence on your life. Time waits on no one, and many of the people from my adolescence in Lawrence County, Ohio – down on the river – are simply gone now. Many of the places are changed. And sadly, many of the best memories must come from just that – the depths of my memory. Ahhh…change!
The Fulks family enjoys remembering, though. There are lots of photos, and we usually take time to visit the cemeteries that bear so many loved ones departed. There’s some sadness, yes, but there are also smiles, because we all believe that we’re just a part of a bigger purpose – that we see through a glass dimly now, in the hope of understanding better on one day yet to come.
We’re also fortunate to have four remaining siblings of what was once my dad’s family of twelve. My grandparents, Dillon and Sylvia Fulks, are gone, of course. But so, too, are Aunt Norma, and uncles Charlie, Leland, Joe, Claude, and Glenn (my dad). Of the originals, only Ross, Jeff, Dan, and Frank remain. When I was a kid I used to think that with so many there would never be a shortage of uncles. How foolish, as my dad would remind me then. And how stark the reminder of his wisdom, now.
We eat a lot during these weekends, and we talk a lot. And surprising, hardly any mention of Donald Trump. The older ones tell a lot of stories – of the tough times in the 30s and people and family members who somehow managed to make ends meet, while putting some meat in their bellies. My Uncle Dan is a master story-teller, and most of my generation of cousins still hang on every word – the same stories and the same laughs we’ve heard for fifty years – while the youngest ones just stare at their smart phones.
But my family, like many others, holds great promise for the future. I’m particularly proud of cousins like Paul (Dallas), John (a missionary in Africa), and Dan (a business man in Jackson, Oh), who’ve been blessed with a gift of creating better lives while serving others. I’m pleased, too, for the ability we all seem to have to just sit and share what we know, where we’ve been, and what we’ve observed; because the Fulks family has become very far-flung – from Kenya to Hawaii, Phoenix to Scottown, Oh (45378).
Ironton, the hub of commerce and politics in southern Ohio is not the same as it once was. Once bustling with activity and known for its high school sports success, it’s become tired over the years. The steel mills closed, retail jobs and agriculture left, and with it many of the great family names and traditions. But again, change. There’s now consolidation, and cooperation, as neighboring Huntington and Ashland, Kentucky offer new jobs and opportunities through technology. And with it, new and faster ways of getting from one place to another. Gleaming new bridges span the Ohio River now, and lots of them…to move people – to facilitate business.
We spend a lot of time talking about what to do next, of course, while remembering some of the sad events of the past – the 1970 air tragedy that claimed the entire Marshall University football team as it returned form a road win at Eastern Carolina University. I took the opportunity this weekend to visit the memorial in Evergreen Cemetery on a hill above Huntington – sobering and impressive. And people in a downtown restaurant Friday still talked about the filming of We Are Marshall, and memories of actor Matthew McConaughey’s time amongst them in 2006.
For the first forty years the annual get-together was held at the family farm, outside tiny Scottown. That, too, has changed, as time passed, along with my paternal grandparents and members of their generation. When I was ten years old it was nothing to run, and jump, and sweat til you dehydrate on a 98-degree day. Now that I’m the age of that previous generation, I, along with others, are content to sit in the air conditioning and laugh at how nuts we once were.
We took some time, as we always do, to drive the old roads and read the new names on old mailboxes…because here’s a lot more houses now than back then.
And the cemeteries host many of those I once sat by in the seventh grade, including the school bully that once drove a mo-ped up the school steps and a lap around the gym…and dared to smoke Marlboros on the playground. His reign of terror is now no more than a chuckle. Ahhh…time!
We parted Saturday, after photos, to head in all directions. The handshakes and hugs now come with a little more conviction, because who knows? Time is promised to no one. And if that’s the case I’ll appreciate all the more riding with Uncle Dan, and hearing the same old stories again. With more people than beds, I greatly appreciate my cousin Paul’s grandmother, Helen Saunders, for staking me the couch in her front room. Ironic, because when I was ten years old there were more people than beds back then, too.
Everything’s changed, yes. But happily, some of the best things have stayed the same.