September 4 is Labor Day. When I was a boy and young man, sometimes we would go to Arkansas on Labor Day weekend for a family reunion.
It wasn’t the Biggs Family but it might as well have been. It was actually the Williams Family. My Grandmother (my Dad’s Mother) was part of the Williams Family and there was a bunch of them in Arkansas.
The reunion was usually at the home of a family member in Conway, Arkansas. Conway is a wonderful college town about 30 miles this side of Little Rock right on Interstate 40.
My Grandmother was from Greenbriar, which is north of Conway on I-65 (on the way to Branson, Missouri). My late Uncle Alton and Aunt Mildred had a home on an acreage in Needs Creek, Arkansas, which is north of Conway and south of Greenbriar.
You just head north from Conway and you turn right a few miles past Pickles Gap on Highway 65.
A lot of folks went to these reunions. I didn’t know most of them but they were very friendly and they loved to tell me stories about my Dad growing up in Arkansas.
Here’s how the reunions worked. The women folk worked and visited in the kitchen while the men folk sat on the back patio or porch and swapped stories.
The food was fantastic. People brought casseroles, cakes, pies and whole host of goodies. In fact, there was not enough room on the dining room table or in the kitchen for all the food. As a result, you could walk into a bedroom and find Aunt Sadie’s apple pie sitting on a nightstand or Cousin Ruth’s cornbread casserole on the coffee table in the den.
The only alcohol at these events was an occasional beer that a young man would sneak in from his pickup truck. The Williams Family, for the most part, were Baptists and they didn’t drink alcohol.
I had great fun sitting on the back porch listening to stories about great hunting trips or fantastic fishing adventures. They would complain about the federal government and high taxes and worry about upcoming crop harvests.
Back then, Arkansas was really a poor state. There was not a lot of economic prosperity. Even Walmart wasn’t a really big deal back in the 1960s and 1970s.
These were men who went to church every Sunday and tried to live good lives but they were products of the South. Some of them were born in the 1800s and the sting of the Civil War was something that was very real to them and that still stung. They were fiercely loyal to their families. They told intriguing stories about their early childhood, about how they made it through the Great Depression.
I never heard any talk of World War II. Most were veterans and those were memories they didn’t want to resurrect. It’s easy to understand why.
I was drawn to the conversations with my Dad and his two brothers – Alton, a minor league baseball player and coach and Jake, a retired Tulsa policeman.
We don’t seem to have family reunions these days. I do cherish the time I get to spend with my grown children (and my daughter-in-law and son-in-law). I really like my nephews and I kinda wish I had carved out more time with them when they were growing up. It’s difficult when you have three kids because they keep you so busy with school and activities.
Every time I drive through Conway I think about Needs Creek and Greenbrier. My Dad’s parents, my grandparents, are buried in Republican, Arkansas – an unincorporated community just outside Greenbrier. Once when my family was driving home from Florida, we stopped at the cemetery. Remembering is important, I think.
My Mother’s family was from West Virginia and since she passed away in 1959, I never spent much time with that side of the family. Forty years ago, my Dad and I drove to West Virginia to visit some of his old friends and his Uncle Charley Williams (sister of my grandmother and my namesake).
I know that Labor Day is supposed to be about honoring the workers of America but I think for most of us, it is just a nice three-day weekend.
But my thoughts go back to an apple pie on a bedroom nightstand and soaking up some family history in Conway, Arkansas in Faulkner County.