One of my memories about Christmas when I was little was that we would always open presents at our house Christmas morning, then pile into the car and head to my maternal grandparents’ house for Christmas with the rest of our family. My mother’s parents lived on the street behind us in Decatur. My grandparents, John and Martha Oatley, had three girls. My mother was the oldest of the three, and she had three boys (I’m the youngest). My mother’s middle sister had a girl and a boy, and my mother’s youngest sister had two boys and a girl. We all lived in Decatur at the time.
Usually we all gathered in the den to receive and open our presents, then we would have Christmas dinner. It was always a time of family fun and love. But our Christmases together started changing around the time I started school. First, one branch moved to Texas for a job opportunity. Then another branch moved to Valdosta. Then the children started growing up and leaving home. Occasionally there would be special visits from our aunts, uncles and cousins, but it wasn’t an annual event anymore. After that, it seemed the only time the extended family got together was for funerals. Our grandfather died in 1970 and our grandmother died in 1984, and we came together for those funerals. My father died in 1991 and my mother in 1996, and both times the family reunited.
But in 2001, my mom’s youngest sister, Aunt Dot, and her husband, Uncle Wade, organized an Oatley Reunion. Uncle Wade had retired, and they had built a retirement home in Sautee, Georgia . About 20 of us gathered at a large house they had rented. We cooked and ate meals together, did activities in the area together, and just enjoyed each other’s company for a long 4-day weekend. At the end, we decided that we would hold a reunion every two years, and that we would rotate where it would be, with each branch of the family taking a turn hosting.
Two weeks ago, the Stanford branch hosted the 8th reunion at some cabins up in Blue Ridge. Attending were my brother Jimmy and his three foster sons and wives or fiancés, Tre and Erica, Jeremy and Katie, and Ashley and Anna, our nephew John with his wife Ann and their two girls, our niece Molly with her husband Richard and their son, myself and my girlfriend Pattie, my son Frank with his wife Sheila and their three boys, my cousin Martha and her husband Jim, their daughter Jamie and her husband John and their two daughters, their daughter Christin and her daughter Lilly, my Aunt Dot, her son Hamp and his wife Pam. While there were about 23 others who could not make it, 32 of us came together for three days of sightseeing, tubing down a river, eating dinners together, karaoke singing, and just enjoying each other’s company. Most of us stay in touch daily or weekly on Facebook, so there wasn’t a lot of catching up to do, but it was just fun being together as a family once again. It reminded me of Christmases long ago, and I’m already looking forward to being with them again in two years.
Treasure your family, big or small, especially when you all have a chance to be together. We are God’s gift to each other.
Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.