Where Did That Red Hair Come From?

I have suffered from headaches for as long as I can remember. In an attempt to control them, I have been going to physical therapy recently to relieve the tension in my neck and shoulders. While I was at the physical therapist office the other day (which is really one big room where several people are doing exercises), an elderly lady was working on her hips and knees. It was her first visit, and she was struggling with her exercises. As she was finishing up, the therapist told her that after she came in the next time, they would give her “homework” that she could get her children or “…her 100 grandchildren” to help her with. The lady laughed and replied, “Don’t give me any more than I already have. I only have 45 grandchildren.”

I almost fell off the table. Forty-five grandchildren!! Wow! Did she remember all their names? Did all the cousins know each other? Did they get together at Christmas? What about Sundays?

I grew up in a family where my mama’s side of the family ate lunch at my grandparent’s house every Sunday after church. I saw my maternal cousins almost every Sunday. On my father’s side, I didn’t see my grandparent’s nearly as often, but we spent at least one week each summer with them in their RV while they were camping at in Boone, and they always came to spend some time with us at Christmas and several other times during the year.

What would it be like to have 40+ first cousins? I couldn’t imagine. And then I think of my parents. Both of them come from families where they had many more first cousins than my sister and I. I don’t think that either one of them had 40+, but there were a lot. They kept their families together by family reunions.

One of my favorite memories growing up is the Baker family reunion. Every year at Thanksgiving, my fraternal grandmother’s family would get together at Ocean Isle, NC. All of Grandma’s brothers and sisters, their kids and their grand kids. We would leave out early every Thanksgiving morning (hardly any traffic on Thanksgiving Day), arrive in Ocean Isle around 1 pm, and stay until Sunday. This was the one time during the year that I would see my cousins, John, Jr. and Jason, my cousin, Leal, my cousins, Michelle and Mitch. These weren’t my first cousins that I knew so well, but my “mysterious” second and third cousins that lived in exotic places like Roanoke, VA, and Columbia, SC. John, Jr., was so cute and played the guitar. I knew that he would fall in love with me one day and we would move to a place where cousins could legally marry (by the way, when applying for mine and Matt’s marriage license, I discovered that John, Jr. and I could have married here in NC, but the desire to marry him was, alas, gone).

Those trips to Ocean Isle each year were gifts that my grandmother and her siblings gave to me and my cousins because they allowed us to meet family that we probably never would have ever known. As my grandmother’s generation has passed on (only my grandmother and one brother are now still with us), the reunions ended. Now there are great-grandchildren (even some great-great-grandchildren), but I don’t think that these Baker descendants will ever know each other except maybe in stories.

That is too bad. Because they may never know that the Bakers were tall, had red hair and liked to laugh. And if one of the descendants suddenly has a tall, red-headed, funny child, they won’t know that’s “the Baker in him coming out.” And Baker is a pretty good thing to be.

Swimming Lessons and Such

My mountain home was calling my name, as well as the fact that Matt and I received an invitation to join some friends at their mountain cabin for a float down the river and some ribs on the grill. As a result, we had a quick trip to the mountains this weekend, including an exciting trip down the New River in the middle of a thunderstorm and some of the best ribs that we’ve ever had.

The canoe trip wasn’t what everyone expected it to be, though I believe that we all still had a lot of fun. It had been many years since I had spent any time on the New River, but I was glad to see that it was as bucolic as ever. Only our hosts were master canoeists, so there were many trips into the river by the rest of us. Luckily, the river was low, so no swimming experience was necessary to save one’s self from the “mighty waters”.

If someone had needed water rescue, however, then they were lucky that I was there. Thanks to years of swimming lessons when I was growing up, I’m sure that I could have provided some aid. My dad was and is a strong swimmer, acting as a life guard during summer breaks. My mama’s family, on the other hand, was not a family of strong swimmers. Swimming was just not a pastime that they pursued while growing up in the mountains. Mama says that she and all her sisters were warned constantly to stay away from water, that they would surely drown if they went any where near it. The threats worked since I don’t believe that any of my maternal aunts can swim. When they started having children of their own, they determined that they wanted their children (me and my cousins) to be raised without fear of water and with the ability to swim.

Thank goodness for my Aunt Mary June, also known as Aunt Mur (or Mur). Aunt Mur worked for the school system, so in the summers, she became the taxi driver for us. Years before anyone had ever coined the phrase “soccer mom” and years before the release of the minivan, Aunt Mur was showing soccer moms and their vans how to do it. She drove the original minivan, the station wagon, a wonderful car that had seats in the rear that faced backward, so you could see where you had been! (This was also before I suffered from car sickness.)

When my sister and I, plus my cousins Wendi and Matt (Aunt Mur’s kids) and Tina had swimming lessons, we would pile in Aunt Mur’s station wagon, and she would burn up the road to get us there (we were usually running a little late). The station wagon also had an 8-track tape player and a Kenny Rogers’ Greatest Hits 8-track, and we sang “The Gambler”, “Lucille”, “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” and “Coward of the County”. Even now, 25 years later, I think of Aunt Mur whenever I hear Kenny Rogers.

Those two weeks of swimming lessons every summer were always so much fun. Mary June would laugh with us kids as we told each other silly jokes and we girls giggled over boys, she sang with us in the car, and she would often stop by the Dairy House after our lessons and let us get some ice cream (and extra special treat!). Driving us to a hot swimming pool to sit for 2 or 3 hours every day for two weeks never seemed like a chore for her but the best part of her summer, as well.

Because of her I learned how to do the side-stroke, how to sing the lyrics to “She Believes in Me”, and how to give with a cheerful heart. Next time I’m home, I think I’ll take my Aunt Murto get some ice cream and see if we can find some Kenny on the radio.