BY MADISON FREDERICK
August is a popular month for family reunions. This is an occasion to eat good food, tell and re-tell family stories, laugh, cry, and feel both old and young again. Many of us have begun to cherish these gatherings now that we are “of a certain age.” Of course, we appreciate many things more than we did as young folks. In fact, you may be experiencing challenges in getting your adult children to attend one of these extended family gatherings. But if you can prevail on them to put this event into their already busy schedule, they will experience a feeling of rootedness and connection like no other.
Southerners value relationships, particularly familial ones. I’ve heard it asked many times, “Who are her people?” That is not a rhetorical question for us. It is an honest and sincere question that we want to be answered so that we can figure how we might know that person or, perhaps, if we may be related to her. Six degrees of separation is a real phenomenon here. And I love it!
Many of my friends use the relationship as part of the proper name of a relative.
This clears up all doubt very quickly about a relationship. For example, Cousin Steve, Aunt Betty, or Mama Eleanor. I like this practice. Even if you are an “in-law” in the family, using a relationship name is endearing and shows respect, to my way of thinking.
Of course, we do practice our genteel Southern manners. We don’t usually say,
Ex-wife Sue, or Adopted Brother John. But we readily admit, almost every family has a quirky relative. One of my favorite episodes of DESIGNING WOMEN is the one in which Julia Sugarbaker makes the statement (and I am paraphrasing here) that in the South we don’t hide our crazy relatives in the attic, we parade them right out into the living room. Yes, I remember fondly now my crazy Aunt Frieda, who subsisted mostly on chocolate cookies and who has long since passed. Not until I brought home my college roommate and saw Aunt Frieda through her eyes, did I realize that she was “off.” She was just accepted as part of the family because she WAS part of our family. Her craziness was part of her uniqueness, and we just accepted it.
We Southerners know how important it is to belong to a family. A good example of this can be taken from our Moravian heritage here in Winston-Salem. Women used the word “Sister” or “Brother” before a given name to indicate the faith family to which they belonged.
But the best names are those that are truly unique and have some sort of family story behind them. Treasure those. “Hoss.” “Shorty.” “Dill.” Sometimes those are names that have been created from little ones who cannot pronounce names correctly yet. “MeMa.” “Noonie.” “Ganga.” Do not miss a chance to hear family stories about how nicknames were created. As we know now, the resources for this information will not be with us forever.
I love to hear my adult son refer to a relative as Aunt Ruby or Uncle Tim. Because when he does this, he shares with the world that he has a family. He has people!
Enjoy your “people” this month.