Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Like most families, my mother’s family has only seen group gatherings over the past years at funerals. It’s always a treat, even under those circumstances, to see the whole family together. So why did we wait so long to have a reunion?

Except for my mom and Aunt Nell, the anchors of the family have all gone. Their children, the “first cousins” have always played well with each other and savored the little time they’ve spent with each other. We’ve all grown up and had families and missed out on each other’s lives and children. It’s now up to us to keep the family unity going and try and pass on family heritage and stories we lived and have heard. Hopefully, our kids will build enough of a relationship that they will want to continue meeting and telling the stories.

For years it was important for my mom and dad to “go home” and visit everyone they could in the two day trip. That was impossible since mom had 7 siblings, and dad had 8. All those aunts and uncles and cousins were best visited at the grandparents’ home. Those gatherings were filled with the laughter of numerous children chasing through the house and yard, and with the best “country” grub ever served!

For the Williams extended family, Grandmother Williams’ house was always the focal point.

Those weekend gatherings are etched in my memory, although most have merged into one or two events. There are a few black and white photos of us kids, here and there, that were immortalized by Brownie Hawkeye cameras.

When grandmother was gone the focal point, for my family at least, sort of went to my Aunt Melinea’s house, where my cousins Ann and Brenda often gathered, making it seem like “home” to me. Other family members would drop by some visits, but for the most part the rest of the aunts and uncles and cousins were seen less frequently. I lost touch with them, having gone off to war, getting married, and college, and even though they were marrying and having babies, they remained little 10-year old kids in my mind.

Later, and I’m not sure why, the focal point shifted to Uncle Tom’s. He loved to have fun and his lakeside home made a perfect place for family to gather. The most fun for me were the November University of Tennessee vs. Alabama football gatherings, complete with his hot chili and warm welcoming manner. Tom would slap his elephant with each touchdown (Roll Tide) and I would slap Smokey (Rocky Top)! Back and forth the dueling mascots would sing out until someone lost, and, in those days, it was usually him! Unfortunately, that has changed and...and I miss him so much.

Now, with Uncle Tom gone, there is no longer a focal point for Williams gathering. The gatherings from now on will probably be church social rooms, community centers, or, in the case of the most recent gathering, a senior center. The only problem with that is that these events will, at most, be annual events. An era has passed that could only be brought back by someone, like Uncle Tom, stepping up and making it a point to allow family to mess up their house more than once a year. Alas, it seems, me included, that we’re all just too busy these days.

One shining light for us though, seems to be email and Facebook. These modern, impersonal tools, are beginning to help us stay in touch. I suppose if there is anything redeeming in the modern technological age, these tools are it.

I’ve posted some family shots on Facebook, and sent numerous others via email, so the event was well documented. Other photos will dwindle in as pocket camera and cellphone shots are distributed.

My son Corey accompanied me on the 300+ mile trip to the 2010 Williams Reunion. As a small boy, he made a few friends with “second cousins”, but from about the age of 10 on he has had no contact. So, it was rewarding to him to go back to our “home” and see family. Maybe one day his girls will also come and make some new family ties.

I took Corey on the “Tri-cities” tour of Florence, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia, Alabama, which has to include TVA’s Wilson and Wheeler Dams, and the all important feast at Walton’s! Walton's Restaurant, in the big city of Elgin’s Crossroads (Hwy 101), has the best fried catfish and hush puppies I’ve ever tasted. Corey wasn’t quite sure that was true until he actually sat down and tasted it. After that, I think he was finished before I downed my first piece!

They also have, what is described as the best BBQ in the Shoals area, but I have yet to try it. The fish being so good, and I only get down there once or twice a year, always wins out!

On Friday afternoon, after checking into the Hampton in Florence, we drove the loop from Florence to Wilson and Wheeler Dams and on to Walton's. From atop the Renaissance Tower, at the Shoals Hotel, we looked out over the “Tri-cities” area and down at Wilson Dam. We had to pay for the photos from the Tower by buying an $8 drink, but the view from the revolving restaurant was spectacular! The skies were so blue last weekend and the company couldn’t be beat!

Corey reminisced about our camping and motel trips back in the days we deer hunted. Those memories must be as special to him as they are me.

We left Florence on Sunday morning and traveled the “old road” up through Lexington, where I was born. I showed him Great Grandfather Johnston’s old home place, and reminded him that I was born upstairs in Grandpa’s bed. The old place looked pretty good with the addition of modern siding. However, it will always be the old shot-gun southern home sitting on rock supports, surrounded by Alabama red dirt, with its lightning rods gleaming in the sun. My mind didn’t even register the satellite dish hanging off the side...I only noticed it after examining my photos when I got home!

We made the short trek down Williams Road, crossed into Tennessee, and stopped at the Second Creek Church where there are both Williams and Mashburn kinfolk buried. Corey was so moved that he had to find a big tree behind the meeting shed! He felt much better after that relieving moment! ‘Nuff said!

On up the road we stopped at the old Mashburn farm, where I spent boyhood summers working the farm with Pa Mashburn. I rang the doorbell, but Aunt Louise, who still lives there, was gone to church. So, we walked around the home place and took some photos of the old barn, where I spent rainy days as a boy, and the house. It was so strange how small the front porch seemed to me. In my memory, that porch was a large as an airport runway! Strange how everything was so much bigger back then...’course I was so much smaller then!

In the big city of Five Points, just two miles up the road, I photographed the old Mashburn store my uncle owned. It sits across the five-point intersection from the new Mashburn General Store where Aunt Louise still works. However, she was at church, like I said, and we missed her.

I told Corey stories of my summers working in the store and about the old men that sat around on drink crates whittling and swapping knives. Across the street, in front of the new store, were old men sitting around doing the same thing. Nothing seems to have changed in Five Points, Tennessee.

The old cotton gin is all gone and only two of the old warehouses remain. It’s sad that Corey missed those days. He would have loved to have ridden a wagon with Pa Mashburn up the dirt road to the gin to sell his cotton, or to play on the bales stacked in warehouses. He would have loved crawling through the tunnels in the bales of straw in the barn, or listening to the Grand Ole Opry on a battery powered radio, while sitting next to a flickering “coal oil” lamp.

He would have loved sinking into a “feather mattress”, up over his ears, under 3 quilts listening to the rain hitting the tin roof at Grandmother Williams’ house. He wouldn’t have enjoyed the trip to the outhouse in the dark, ‘cause I know I didn’t!

On the way home we passed through Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. It was Lawrenceburg where the old Mashburn family did their “trading”, and in the old days it was an all day, if not 2 day, wagon trip. I remember Ma Mashburn excitedly exclaiming once when we brought her back home in dad’s car, “Lordy be, we got back the same day we left!

Corey enjoyed that story, and the look around town. I showed him the statue of Davey Crockett in the town square. I remember a News Sentinel reporter once stated that there was no statue to David Crockett, so dad sent him a photo of this one in Lawrenceburg. The reporter corrected his story!

Yes, they are all gone...turned to vague memories. However, these memories, as trivial as they may be to others, need to be told and retold. They are a record of what we were and are, what we thought and think. They make up a history of the family...our roots. We must not let them slip away like we have allowed the memories of those that came before us to do.

What I wouldn’t give for a file full of jpeg photos of Williams, Johnston, Morrison, Hammonds, and Mashburn folk running around at family gatherings back through the 18, 19, and 20th centuries. They didn’t have what we have, so it can’t be - the memories lost brings a tear to my eye.

Families don’t just exist in their genes, they exist in memories. The stories must be told or we, or they, have not lived at all.

May God bless and keep the Williams family until we meet again.

To see photos of my "down home" visit, CLICK HERE!


Meeme said...

Beautifully Done!

Mushy said...

Thank you my dear...cousin!

jubewi said...

Paul you are great. You said all the things I feel. I really loved the reunion . I think of you all often. Seeing my aunts, cousins and their children brought back so many wonderful memories. I left with Mom in a hurry and didn't get to say goodbye to everyone but I hope they know I love them all. Thanks paul for all you do to keep us together with your blog and for sharing your memories. I hope to see all of you soon and hope God blesses us all with another get-together. Love you--Julie

Mushy said...

Love you too Julie...and it was so great to see you again. I've thought about you often over the years and wondered what you were up to. Hope to see you real soon.

BRUNO said...

I'll not ruin the moment with my "normal" off-the-wall response---your kin might not take well to MY-"caliber"!

But that having been said: I enjoyed the "visit", and hope to "crash" many more, in the future...!☺

Suldog said...

This is wonderful stuff, Mushy. Whenever I see photos of ANY family gathering, it stirs something deep inside of me. By the way, you're looking rather fit and trim in these photos. Good for you!