On Saturday, there were about a second-helping dozen of us, all brought together by the bonds of family and memory. We are the remaining grandchildren of William Wiley and Katie McInnis Tarleton, remnants of 34 (as best we could count) first cousins. We gathered for a few hours at a historic country inn a short drive from where our grandparents lived and from where many of us were born.
The first generation from that 1900 marriage have all died. Only two former wives of the Tarleton brothers still live. The last brother died nearly a decade ago.
Reunions of this family were annual events throughout the memory of most of my generation, though many of the cousins were too scattered or too busy with life to attend the reunions and get reacquainted with our cousins and meet those cousins' children and grandchildren. My generation, the grandchildren of Katie and Wiley, spanned about 20 years. My oldest first cousins are two decades older than I. Our grandparents' firstborn was born more than 20 years before their youngest, so two generations of this family take up a lot of space on a timeline.
We gathered Saturday to enjoy a meal together and to tell stories — reminders of what the generations before us were like, what they did, and the stories they told. We also remembered our own generation and the generation or two that have come after us.
These cousins have endured mourning, each of us losing parents and many losing siblings and even children. Those lives could be remembered without wailing, although grief never dies, as we laughed at the stories of our lives and our parents' lives and our grandparents' lives.
The stories are important. We pass them to our children, embellished perhaps, misremembered perhaps, but essential for establishing who we are, whence we came, where we are going.