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.

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