This weekend my husband, son, parents, and I attended the Davis-Johnson family reunion in Atlanta, Ga. My mother’s great-grandparents were Jennie Johnson and Rev. Davis. The Davis’ had five daughters who seem to have been at the root of this reunion-ing. The family members I am most familiar with were absent, and most of the people at this reunion I didn’t know, although there were several familiar faces from the reunion I attended two years ago in New Orleans, and many familiar names.
We came from Ohio, Tennessee, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Georgia, to name the places I can remember. It was a three-day event, and I spent the first day introducing myself as Margot’s daughter, Billy’s granddaughter, and Drucilla Davis’ great-granddaughter (one of the five sisters). We tried tracing the family tree to find out exactly where we fit and how we were related, and I was frequently confused for my two older sisters, who didn’t make it out.
In a room full of unfamiliar faces and people I may never have met before, I hugged everyone, kissed almost everyone, and felt absolutely, completely, unequivocally at home and loved. This is family.
My cousin Jesse (we all just eventually boiled ourselves down to “cousins,” it was so much easier than trying to figure out second, third, and so on, especially when explaining it to my four-year-old) recently graduated as a minister, following in the footsteps of her father, Cousin Joe (who I believe really is my mother’s first cousin). At our family meeting, she gave a lovely sermon on carrying the mantle of the five Davis sisters who had originally started these reunions in their backyards, cooking and sharing their own food, hosting relatives in their basements and living rooms. Jesse taught us about the three Hs of the Davis sisters.
The first H was Him, meaning God. These were God-fearing women who put their faith first in their life and taught that to their children. What an amazing legacy for someone like me who is trying to do the same in my own life and home. Their faith carried them through hard times of want and times of plenty, of violence and fear and hardship. It was strong enough that four generations later, their great-grandchildren still know what they believed and aren’t afraid to talk of their God. The Davis legacy begins with Him.
The second H was Hustle. Their faith wasn’t blind, and it wasn’t passive. They didn’t expect things to be handed to them; they worked and hustled and dreamed. Jesse talked of her grandmother, who, a black woman, managed to work and hustle and earn enough money to not only support her children, but to send them to college. How can I sit on my rump, sigh at my fate, and say “Woe is me” with a legacy like this? What better example of self-determination, of turning dreams into reality through my own grit, and accepting no one’s nay-saying?
And the final H was Hospitality. Cooking, hosting, feeding and welcoming family, friends, and complete strangers were the regular activities of the Davis sisters. Family was everything, and everyone was family. As I mentioned, these reunions started in family rooms, backyards, local parks. My mother tells stories of visiting her aunts and great aunts and being fed sweet cornbread (which she loved) and lima beans (which she hated and hid in her socks). They reached out to the one, and brought them into the fold. I’ve been trying hard to open myself and my home to others lately, to get out of my bubble, to see who I can reach and love and lift.
The original Davis sisters are all gone. The family is large and scattered across many states. So what happens when the original glue is gone, when the founders of a movement pass on? Are we still a family? Will the family stories and relationships still last?
One of my favorite things to do when I get together with my immediate family is to listen to the stories. I love listening to my mother’s stories from her childhood, from my grandfather’s childhood. I never tire of hearing how my parents met, of how my father didn’t quite propose (he just vaguely talked about believing in commitment and then was upset when Mom wasn’t sure if they were engaged), of my mother meeting her soon-to-be in-laws for the first time. I love the story of my Grandpa Baker spitting on people when they asked how the weather was “up there” and telling them it was raining. I love to hear how my mother and her cousins tied a sibling to a lamp post by her braids to keep her from tattling. I loved going to the reunion and connecting faces with names I had heard many times before.
I loved that I could walk into that room and hug anyone in sight and know that they were family. That my son could happily sit with his newly met cousins, while I watched two young boys I never met before taking the time to talk with him, to teach him to play new games as they traded tablets and iPhones (the new generation). I loved that every half hour Liam asked where his new cousins were and wanted to sit with them at every event. I don’t want to lose that sense of family or connection. I want to always have this “home” to go to, a place, no matter where it is, filled with people of various hues, religions, political leanings, and walks of life, a home that is warm, loving, accepting and uplifting.
We might lose a few members along the way; there might be branches that choose not to remain active and a part of the family tree, but it won’t be my branch as long as I have anything to say about it. Jesse had it right: we remember the legacy, the three Hs, and we carry on. We carry the mantle, we put in the time and effort to remember who we are, where we come from, and where we are going.
Here’s to next year’s family reunion. I love you guys.