My memories are of a dark shelter house and of the tall hill looming above it. The October air is crisp, and the fire in the big stone fireplace warms at least one end of the large room. The entire space is filled with the bustle and chatter of happy members of our extended family. For some it has been since last October since they laid eyes on one another.
The food waiting in the covered dishes crowded on long tables tempts us kids to lift one corner of the aluminum foil, thereby risking gentle admonition from the adults who tell us to wait until Grandpa says grace.
Behind the shelter, the hill rises 400 feet and tempts us as well. It is understood that sometime during the day we will need to trek up the steps set into the steep slope. We can see the entire world from up there. We will explore the autumn-dappled woods on top and gather hedge apples (We call them “monkey brains”) to heave down the grassy part of the hill. Eventually we will either dizzy ourselves rolling down the hill or struggle to stay upright as we try to run to the bottom.
The sign reads “Jimmy Nash City Park,” but to our family it has always been Martinsville Park, the spot where we gather for the Knight Family Reunion.
Grandpa and Grandma Knight were not the only elders of the clan ensconced in the shelter house in those days. Grandpa came from a big family, and he and Grandma had nine children together. And of course, their kids eventually had kids of their own. The cousins of my generation could field a league of ball teams.
From the time before I can remember, this is the spot where the family would gather. The park was the axle around which the various Knight families rotated as they wheeled around the circle of the year.
It’s just speculation, but maybe that is part of the reason attendance waned when it was decided some years ago that the reunion should be at a closer, more convenient venue. Yes, the group of elders grew smaller, and newly formed younger families fell into the busyness of life, and people fell away, and so there came one October when the reunion didn’t happen. And then another.
Whenever the family would gather for some other event — sadly it was usually a funeral — someone would reminisce about the Knight reunion and say, “We should do that again,” and someone else would nod, and we would forget about it before we got in our cars to go home. Then one of the cousins of my generation, Karie, decided to make it happen. Thanks again, Karie.
And so on the second Sunday of October 2015 we re-gathered together for the Knight Family Reunion at Martinsville’s Jimmy Nash City Park. The dark shelter house has been replaced by a more open, brighter building. The original fireplace is still there. The meatloafs, chickens, baked beans, salads and plethora of desserts are grouped on tables set up in a line. Iced tea pitchers and a huge coffee urn wait nearby. Before we eat, cousin Ron who is a preacher says grace just as Grandpa, also a preacher, had said it so many years before.
The hill looks as high as it ever did, and some of the young ones have already been to the top of the world and back down a few times. I am ensconced at a table and talk with the grownups instead of climbing, but that is acceptable since I am now an elder.
It is a perfect sunny autumn day. And next year even if it’s cloudy, rainy and cold, it will still be a perfect day for a family reunion.