Sunday, October 18, 2015

An Extraordinary Day: Daniel Family Reunion

Lewis Edward and Nina Hughes Daniel
Ed and Nina Daniel had seven children:  Norris, Maxwell, Audrey, Edwin, Joyce, Jackie and Margaret.  The family lived in Amite, Louisiana and were reared with Christian values.  Life during the depression was hard for this family, but they stayed close. Even after marriages and children they saw each other often.  The cousins, children of the seven siblings, have fond memories of family gatherings. The recollections include summers of play, endless card games and shared values. Jackie and Margaret are the surviving siblings as the other five have passed away due to illnesses.

Seems that as the aging process takes hold, one is reminded of the value of past experiences and the importance of family.  Early in the year Daniel Family members gathered for a funeral.  Another one of my father's six siblings had passed away.  We noted that we never saw each other except for solemn occasions and decided to do something about it.  On October 11, 2015, the two remaining Daniel siblings and 118 of the Daniel children, grandchildren and great grandchildren gathered in Zachary, Louisiana.  There would be food, fellowship and singing. The Daniels love to sing!  Childhood memories include many sessions of gathering around a piano and belting out carols at Christmas.  Many of the cousins could and would play musical instruments.  It was noted that our grandfather, Ed, was singing a hymn on his deathbed.  That was the last memory shared of his life.
Seated L to R: Norris and Maxwell
Standing L to R: Joyce, Edwin, Audrey, Jackie & Margaret

The planning began in April.  The gym of my church was reserved.  A Facebook page was begun.  Family names and contact information were collected via email and messages.  A letter was composed and the invitations went out in mid July.  Each of the 21 first cousins, their spouses and their children and grandchildren were invited.
As the date got closer many people became involved.  Cousin Steve would cook for us.  He is a minister and often cooks large quantities of barbecue for church events and he offered his expertise for our event.  Cousin Melanie offered her talents as mistress of ceremonies, song parody writer, photo booth creator and general "counsel" along the way.  Others encouraged their kids to register and to attend.

Wayne and Bootsie greeted guests
From childhood, when most of our parents were still around, the Daniel cousins knew each other.  As the family gatherings came less and less frequent we lost touch.  We had a great desire to share our memories and to meet each other's extended family.  We color coded our name tags and labeled them with the names of our parents.  That would be a good way to start.
As each family arrived and the name tags were claimed, the feeling of excitement grew.  The names of many we never had met were paired with faces and that created a lot of joy.

We would enjoy a festive meal centered around pulled pork, cajun sausages and hot dogs for the children (42 of whom were in attendance).  Each person brought a side dish.  We filled 6 eight foot long tables with food.  Food would be a focal point of our celebration.  We found out that we are great cooks.  Steve and wife, Dianne, assisted by Eric and Phillip presided over the kitchen and serving.
Chef Steve

Blessing the food and family
Food was another way to connect as we discussed the culinary delights.  Our meal was preceded with a family blessing.  We thanked God for the food we were about to eat and for the blessings of family and the opportunity to be together.  Alecia stated the truth in the old saying:  A family that prays together, stays together.  Hands were held and it was a very special moment.

Family singing parodies
Creative Melanie
After our meal we remained seated to enjoy a program presented by our mistress of ceremonies, Melanie.  Melanie has many talents among which is writing parodies to familiar tunes.  Cousins got on stage and took the microphones to sing jaunty and humorous lyrics to the tunes of the Addams Family, Beverly Hillbillies and Gilligan's Island.  What fun!

Melanie also organized a photo booth complete with props.  So many pictures were taken and a just a couple are shared here.  The hit was a life sized frame.

 

No reunion would be complete without family pictures.  The families of each sibling were assembled and cameras were clicking.  A couple of unique snaps were of the first cousins and all of the "red heads" in our family.  Nina Hughes was a redhead and that red hair is still popping up in our grandchildren and great grandchildren
First Cousins (missing Rossie, Chris and Suzie)

Redheads Rule
Margaret Ann-Youngest Daniel Sibling 
Jackie with Robin
There was more singing and near the end of our time together.  Bob, led the entire room in an a cappella rendition of a family favorite, How Great Thou Art.  (click the name of the song to hear the music) I believe that song has been sung hundreds of times at Daniel family gatherings.

It would be difficult to write about everything that occurred in our short time together.
Be assured there were smiles, hugs, laughter and genuine joy during the afternoon.  Thanks to every single person who attended.  Ed and Nina would have been very proud.

Here's the recipe for Frances Daniel Smith's Cornbread Salad that was requested by so many:
2 boxes Jiffy Cornbread Mix (prepared as directed on box, cooled, crumbled in large bowl)
1 cup diced onion, yellow or green
1 cup diced green bell pepper
3 fresh tomatoes diced
1 quart mayonnaise
Toss all ingredients together.  Top with fresh crisp crumbled bacon (or bacon bits).  Chill before serving.
Optional:  add browned ground cooked sausage, boiled eggs, olives, celery

NOTE:  members of the Facebook page, Daniel Family, can view hundreds more pictures taken on the day of the reunion.  
Welcome table:  Tablecoth crocheted by Grandmother Nina
The group: lots of folks!




Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Uncle Edwin and My Memories

I went to the funeral.  One of seven children, Edwin James Daniels was born in 1918 in Amite, Louisiana and died in February of 2015.  He was my Dad's brother.  Like many young men of his time, he fought in World War II and was part of the "Avengers of Bataan"  also known as the 38th Infantry-Mechanized Calvary in the Philippines. He was awarded six medals for his service.  Later in his life, the Governor of Louisiana presented him with another medal in appreciation for his service.  His burial at Port Hudson National Cemetery was befitting  a hero.

After the war he married Aunt Lee, as we called her.  Her name was really Shirley, but I never knew that until I read the obituary after her passing six years ago.  They had two sons, David and Chris.  There are also three grandsons and one great-granddaughter.  In his 93 years, Uncle Edwin was a positive influence on this family as he was a Christian and lived a faith filled life.  At his funeral, his grandson recalled the impact of Uncle Edwin's strengths in handshake and in his belief in Christ.  He espoused the importance of "good clean living" and his legacy will live on in his offspring.

Uncle Edwin played a defining role in my life and I did have the opportunity to tell him so during one of our visits before he died.   He worked as the Chief Custodian for the parish schools in Baton Rouge for many years.  He was awarded the "plum" of his occupation by working at the newest and fanciest of the schools in the parish, Tara High School.  Teachers and students alike respected him for his knowledge and ability.   He was in a position to become acquainted with many of the key people in the parish level of supervision of the various subjects taught.  It seems that a Mr. Howard was his friend and also happened to be the person in charge of hiring teachers in the field I was studying in college.  Apparently, Uncle Edwin had bragged that he had a niece who was receiving her degree in teaching and was seeking employment.  Mr. Howard offered me a position and I took it!  That launched my 30 year career in education.  I sincerely believe that Uncle Edwin got that job for me.  There were so many applicants that, until he spoke up for me, I was just another piece of paper looking for a job.

Edwin in blue shirt
I wasn't particularly close to my uncle in my adulthood since marriage, my own children,  career  and a busy schedule kept me from visiting much.  I knew, however, that if I picked up a phone a loving voice would answer.  I did see him at family reunions and an occasional Christmas party and was happy for those times of seeing my relatives on my Dad's side.  Childhood memories of birthday parties that Aunt Lee gave for her boys are cherished ones.  All the cousins were invited and there was always cake, candles and the singing of "Happy Birthday to You."  I remember running and playing in their yard.  In those days birthday parties were at "your house" and your Momma baked the cake and "Pin the Tail on the Donkey" was the entertainment.  Times were simpler, but all the cousins had these parties.  Lots of opportunities to get to know family in those days.

They owned one house during their sixty or so years of marriage and lived in it for almost all that time.  The neighborhood changed, but they stayed and were happy and comfortable there for many years on Sherwood Street.  I also have fond memories of the Sears catalog.  Sounds strange, but my uncle and aunt shopped from the catalog and every time a new one came out, they would drive to our house and give me the catalog from the last season.  I remember paging through that big colorful book and circling all the things I wanted to purchase....if I had the money!  I don't think they ever knew how much enjoyment that simple gift generated.

When I had my own children, every now and then I would get a little envelope in the mail from Aunt Lee and Uncle Edwin.  It was always filled with diaper coupons and a friendly note that they were thinking about us.  The best part of those letters was the two $1.00 bills that were folded in.  There were instructions that the money was to be used to purchase ice cream for my children.  They sent us a Christmas card annually and we did the same back to them.  They always kept in touch and that was greatly appreciated and valued.  Of course, that mail promoted a phone call from me, so we could talk.

Edwin and his sister, Jackie
In his declining years, Uncle Edwin moved to Zachary.  His move, and mine, to the same town placed us in close proximity and I was blessed to get reacquainted with him.  He lived at Oakwood Village and had a small apartment designed for seniors who desire independent living.  It suited him well as he was then a widower and was never known to be a materialistic person.  During the six years he lived there he made many friends.  The ladies liked him because of his pleasant demeanor and he remained a "good looking" fellow until the end of his life.  The gents respected him as a friend and many because of their shared war experiences.  He was kind to everyone he met.

One year he was crowned the King of the Oakwood Village Mardi Gras festivities and the local newspaper put his picture on the front page.  He had a special lady friend and he confided to me, once, that she was so interesting to talk to because she had traveled the world.  I loved to go there and see them sitting in the large living area of Oakwood as they chatted or just sat in silence enjoying each other's company.

Uncle Edwin was a humble man and an all-around nice guy.  When I went to the funeral I saw a lovely display of his war medals and commendations that his sons had organized for the mourners to view.  I regret that I never knew of his brave deeds as a soldier or that his fellow servicemen called him the "Swamp Rabbit."  I suppose he was fast and was familiar with swampy terrain because of his native Louisiana.  This display also included family pictures of his children, grandchildren and his beloved great-grandchild.
"Swamp Rabbit"


In his last few months he was hospitalized several times and I was blessed to visit him on those occasions.  He always had a smile for me and knew my name.  It stunned me that he resembled my father so much.  He didn't seem to be in pain, but there was a feeling that he was ready to meet his Heavenly Father.  He passed away in his sleep and I know he lives in Heaven because he was a perfect candidate for that destination.  I shall remember him always and give thanks that he was my uncle.  Rest in Peace, Uncle Edwin.