As I rounded the corner and surveyed the park, the emotion was palpable as I observed the people gathered out in the distance.
I was cognizant of the heart beating in my chest, the lump in my throat, the smell from the smoke as it enveloped my nose. I was entranced as I watched the webs of smoke as wafted from the grills, briefly swirling in the air before disappearing.
Family reunion had been the two words omnipresent on the tongue of the majority of my family for nearly two years.
As my cousin Tony backed into the parking space, I shut my eyes tightly and recapped how I and my family and I arrived at this juncture.
Tracing the lineage of your family is a labor of love and it is fair to say that isn’t a walk in the park.
Family members have proclaimed me as the unofficial Family Historian and the person responsible for many of us finding each other, but I’m inclined to think that this would be tantamount to thanking the eggs or extending accolades to the flour without recognizing that the ingredients have worked in concert to comprise the cake.
My path down the rocky road of 200 some odd years of the maternal line of my family started with a phone call.
A little less than 2 years ago.
The phone rang and I briefly debated if I should answer, begrudgingly I answered the phone without bothering to look at the caller ID.
“How you doing?”
The voice on the other end was my cousin Terry, checking in to see how I was doing.
Terry was more like a brother to me when we growing up, our relationship made my being middle child less of an ordeal that it could have been. Always going tit for tat, being on the each other’s frequency and speaking that truth when it needed to be told is something that has always been seamless for us.
I hadn’t given him any indication that anything was wrong, but truth be told, I was rudderless, I was in a deep fog of sorts.
And we arrived on the subject on family.
He shared his disappointment that it seemed that members of our family were going onto respective islands.
We talked about having a picnic during the summer where we would take the lead in pulling together the confines of the family.
During our discussion, he pivoted and got our other cousin, Jamese on the phone via conference call, where we hashed out the particulars of what we envisioned.
He stated in his typical blunt, uncompromising fashion:
“If we can’t or won’t do this for the family, then we ain’t shit!”
There was a brief pause before Jamese and I echoed his sentiment.
His words had a haunting resonance that echoed.
When we finally got off the phone, I remember thinking what a novel idea this was.
He poked me, he planted a seed and I started thinking about the particulars of what the three of us discussed.
However, I couldn’t have expected the turn of events that were to follow.
The chain of events that led to my starting down the improbable path of tracing my family history were unremarkable on the surface – but in retrospect I can’t chalk it up to anything other than divine intervention.
My Grandmother’s stories and the recollections of how she and her sisters left the oppressive confines of a small town in Alabama for the promise that Chicago offered, is always infectious regardless of how many times it is told.
The passage of 18 some odd months later, I found myself standing in the midst of hundreds of my family members from across the country.
Brought together by the force of 200 plus years of our shared history.
Some of us had met earlier this year.
While – some of us had only met through the medium of social media.
While – some of us had only spoke via phone, text or instant message
Many of us hadn’t met prior to that moment, it was an ethereal feeling as I marveled at the cohesiveness that rippled throughout the room. A feeling that you’ve known each other forever regardless of the fact that you are seconds, minutes, hours into meeting each other cannot be understated.
Social media with its warts and all – served as the ligature that bound us all together.
Being submerged in a sea of people who look like you is an amazing feeling.
I witnessed my cousin Shannon, walk arm and arm with her sister Renisha with their mouths gaping as if they had seen a ghost.
They made a beeline across the field towards my Great Aunt Irene.
As Shannon stood inches away from my Aunt Irene, she stammered incredulously:
“Excuse me, I know my Granny is gone, but I saw you over here and I had to come by make sure she wasn’t walking around, you look just like her!
And with that – the three of them erupted in a raucous laughter and merged into a shared hug.
This exchange repeated itself over and over again over the course of the next 2 days.
My mother was checking in at the hotel when she sent me a text from the hotel telling me:
“Shun, there is a lady here that looks just like Auntie…”
I texted back that it was probably a family member, which turned out to be the case.
Having our senses assaulted with the sights, sounds and sensations of laughing, crying, smiling from the pits of our soul was nothing short of:
Foundation shaking, life changing, and humility inducing.
A couple years ago, I was told that “you’ve got work to do“, maybe this was it.
I often wonder, what if I didn’t take that call that day?
I shudder to think.
Would my ancestors be smiling as broadly as I know they are now?