The older and more mature you become, the more you realize the veracity of the Sly and the Family Stone lyric that says “…life is full of ups and downs in general… some are yours, no matter how you feel.”
If you never knew that, you learned it during the past two years when you had to deal with the frustration, anxiety and uncertainty of a global pandemic. Many of you were afflicted and survived. Many of you lost relatives and friends.
So we are particularly appreciative of every opportunity these days to gather with loved ones for any extended period. Over the so-called Independence Day weekend, the Williams family held its first reunion in two decades.
Prior to that, we mostly saw each other at homegoing services, weddings, graduations and similarly somber occasions that had their own specific agenda, with limited or no opportunity for camaraderie. Family interactions had mostly been limited to such purposeful gatherings.
That lack of engagement would surely come as a major disappointment to my mother, who passed away shortly after I moved to Indianapolis 21 years ago. When she was here, she hosted Family New Year’s Day Celebrations at her midtown Gary home almost every year. It was a time to eat, drink, be merry and catch up on one another’s lives.
Those regular gatherings left when she did.
Now don’t misunderstand me. You will find few more loving clans than the Williams family. Every time we would come in contact with one another over the years, there was nothing but excitement, affection and great conversation. It’s just that no one took the initiative to organize on a larger scale, in Mother’s absence, and reunions fell through the cracks.
You know how it is. People get busy in their immediate family lives, careers, social, community, school and church circles. Even with the best intentions, weeks turn into months, into years before contemplating bringing everyone together. Then you think about whether you want the burden of planning a large scale gathering.
Well, this time it finally happened, July 2 through Independence Day over the past week. It was an incredible experience. People could not have been more gratified to have an opportunity to just chat, listen, laugh and love on one another. Folks came from as far away as Mississippi, Texas, Missouri, Illinois and other locations around the nation.
We opened with a “meet and greet” at the west side home of my sister, Jenette McKnight-Hodges, the matriarch of the family. Then Sunday we held a dinner at a popular local eating establishment. And on the final day, everyone came to Hidden Lake in Merrillville for a stone soul picnic; food, games and more wonderful conversations.
When the day ended, news spread about the horrific Highland Park massacre that occurred while families celebrated the holidays in Illinois. Hearing the life of an eight year old was taken made me reflect on young people that age at the Williams family reunion. Hearing that an 80-year-old was a victim made me think about my sister and two brothers that age.
I could not help but empathize with those forced to deal with this unthinkable tragedy in the midst of a festive family gathering that should have been nothing but holiday fun. Their lives were changed forever. Prayerfully, survivors will become even closer to one another.
The Williams Family Reunion was a total success from start to finish. Every detail was attended to and everyone left satisfied and looking forward to the next. And there will be a next, if the Lord says the same.
Still, we all need to pray for those families who will no longer have that option.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].