Sunday, October 23, 2016

My People

The Dixon family reunion at Green Hill in Buckingham County is in the books. It was a delightful day, sunny and breezy with random memories whipped up in the wind all around us. There were probably 80 people there, 70 of whom I didn't really know. But it was like an episode from the twilight zone where in a room full of strangers, everyone looked familiar. Someone would pass by you and there would be a flash of recognition, that nose, those eyes, that facial expression, so closely held, so dear. 

". . . you must be Bubby's girl."

" Yep! You look like Betty's son."

My Uncle John, the war hero was my Mom's big brother. His family lived in Gladstone, Virginia in the big house by the railroad tracks. We would visit when I was a boy. He had four kids, my cousins. There was Bootsie, the oldest, Bubby who would go on to be a war hero himself, then Peggy and Joanne, the youngest who was my age. Yesterday, those three sisters were in charge of things. They had organized and planned the event. I watched them as they talked, saw them interact with everyone, felt the love of family and the pride they have in being a Dixon. I have it too. 

There was a table with pictures, all pressed behind plastic, some with short descriptions. . .  Alice Horsely Dixon 1910. . . John Henry Dixon in New Orleans. The pictures were mostly black and white and faded, over exposed here, bleached out there. But each of them sent out a message. . . We were here. Here's the proof.

Then I saw this picture of my mother. Bootsie suggested that it was either her high school graduation photo or maybe a picture taken for her wedding announcement for the newspaper. . . either way, she would have been. . .16. It took my breath away. Was my mother ever 16? But, there she was in 
glorious, faded black and white. I saw my son in her eyes. Her hair was my daughter's hair. I looked closer and saw myself staring back. I saw my sisters in her smile. That nose, the dead giveaway of my ancestors, the playfulness and great expectation in her face was stunning. She had her entire life ahead of her, about to marry the man of her dreams. And now, four years after her death, the grateful family she left behind stands on the spot where she grew up, with tears forming, fascinated by the transformative power of a photograph.

It's funny. When she was alive, this was the type of event I would have come up with any excuse not to attend. But now that she is gone, something inside of me was longing for it. The older I get the more aware I have become of my mortality. These people are my people. They share with me a common ancestry. Their blood is my blood. 

We wandered the grounds, visited the cemetery up on the hill overlooking the ghost of the old homeplace. There lie my grandparents. A few feet from them lie my great grandparents. It is an odd feeling, walking through a cemetery, something that is equal parts pride and sadness.

But on this day, it was mostly pride.