By Barney Blakeney
I was talking with a friend yesterday telling him about recent stuff going on in my life. Some of it was stuff we’ve shared in our more than 50-year friendship and some was personal. We talked about our former high school teacher Mrs. Marjorie Howard’s 106th birthday and other stuff. When I told him about the passing of my 99-year-old aunt and how it affected our family’s 80th annual reunion, he suggested I write about it.
I’ve been writing these opinion columns since I first got into newspaper writing some 40 years now. I’m opinionated. It allows me to express those opinions. More recently I’ve tried to use the space to offer information from a personal perspective. They say you never stop learning so I keep trying to develop ways to improve how I do that in this column – offer information in a personal way.
I was contemplating how I could take an old subject – Black political representation – and incorporate it in this week’s column, and then Terrence suggested I write about my family. I told him my Aunt Lillian Allen Blakeney’s death August 13 postponed plans for our annual family reunion scheduled for the third Saturday every August.
My dad and his siblings started going home to Pageland, S.C. for their father’s birthday in 1938. Practically, they eventually scheduled the gathering for the third Saturday in August. As their families grew, it became a family picnic held at my Uncle George Washington ‘G.W.’ and Aunt Lillian’s farm near Albemarle, N.C. More recently the picnic became a weekend-long reunion held at various locations around the southeast. This year it was to be held in Newport News, Va. where Aunt Lillian’s son lives.
Aunt Lillian was the last surviving member of my father’s generation. She was a stunning light-skinned black-haired woman whose demeanor was as beautiful as she. Aunt Lillian had the most beautiful attitude I’ve ever seen. She talked to you with a smile, her lilting eastern North Carolina accent forming words that flowed like honey from her mouth. Aunt Lillian was a really nice lady.
In the old days family members brought food to supply the picnic. Uncles, aunts and their children started arriving from New Jersey, Washington, D.C. and Virginia the night before. Those of us living closer usually arrived Saturday. Daddy would load us in the car and food in the trunk early Saturday morning and off we’d go. It seemed my dad never could drive fast enough to get us there. After an initial fight at my first reunion, me and Aunt Lillian’s sons Waymon and Wilbur would be inseparable the rest of the weekend. My dad and his brother G.W. were close. We visited them throughout the year. It was a glorious time!
When I got the call about Aunt Lillian’s passing, my first thought was ‘well no reunion this year’. I knew Aunt Lillian was alright. That’s how she was. I called Waymon. I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I asked that perennially dumb question one asks of someone whose mother has just passed, “You alright?” Of the three of us – me, Waymon and Wilbur who had come to be called “Moose” – Waymon is the most responsible and level-headed. His response was characteristic. “We’re fine,” he said softly. “Mama was ready to go for a while. We wanted her to stay.”
Waymon’s words verbalized how I felt about Aunt Lillian’s passing. She was a God–fearing woman who had enjoyed a wonderful life. She constantly was surrounded by her children who love her dearly. She wasn’t in pain, had lived a long time and saw her kids all do well. She was ready to go. I’ll miss her, the sweetness of her smile and her egg custard pies. I didn’t like eggs as a child, but I’d eat Aunt Lillian’s egg custard pies!
I’m still a little worried about the reunion. Waymon said it would be postponed, not cancelled. I didn’t go to the funeral. I don’t like ‘em. I’m told it was a reunion anyway. Thinking about it now, that’s Aunt Lillian’s way. She brought the family together anyway. Rest well, Aunt Lillian.