"Children should be seen and not heard." – Aunt Pearl
"Old busy–body religious fanatics should not be seen or heard." – Grandpa
Two of my favorite chapters in Chinaberry Summer are "A Come to Jesus Meeting" and "Shall We Gather." In those chapters I take my readers to the annual Stevenson family reunion on the third Sunday in July.
The food is going to be a heavenly blend of classic Southern dishes washed down with Dixie cups filled with icy sweet tea served up under loblolly pine trees. But the best part of all will be the people in attendance. It's blazing hot, the yellow jackets are buzzing, and all that remains for an entertaining afternoon is the appearance of Raedean Brown in a very bad mood.
Now all of those family members are completely fictional − in the usual sense. But I assure you that many of them have turned up in most families. And still do. And that doesn't just apply to families in the Deep South.
Does every family have a relative like Aunt Pearl heavily perched somewhere on a limb of the family tree? Maybe. If not, perhaps a few family members' personalities can be rolled together into a composite recipe for Aunt Pearl. Mix together a cup of self-righteousness, a cup of regular attempts to control everyone in the family, another cup of the continual desire to kill small critters to teach them a lesson, another cup of church gossip, and a large dollop of old-fashioned notions about women and religion. Stir and sprinkle the mixture heavily with bitterness and constant criticism.
Then there are those other fictional relatives. The ones who can scarf down fried chicken and deviled eggs while still managing to breathe and gossip at the same time. The ones who wear overpowering floral perfume applied by the ounce, creating a flowery cloud of dueling fragrances. The one who talks sweetly to a cousin and then loudly denounces her to other relatives when she gets out of earshot. The ones who visit only one day a year, and that’s one day too many. And, of course, there's the rest of the family. The ones who watch in disbelief as other dysfunctional relatives use the occasion to embarrass themselves in one way or another. Really? At a family reunion?
How true is the old saying: We get to choose our friends, but there's not a single thing we can do about choosing the people who are kin to us. And sometimes there's nothing quite like a family reunion on a hot, humid Sunday afternoon in July to remind us of that fact.