My heart seemed overwhelmed with what I can only describe as absolute and total love for this old man who now stood before me.

Originally published on LinkedIn — October 17, 2019

He had not yet arrived, but I knew he was coming. Memories from long ago swirled through my mind; memories from a simpler time, mostly childhood memories, memories of people I had loved and who now were all gone. All gone but one, and I knew he was coming, and I had driven from Houston to Georgetown, Ohio to see him. I was trying to remember the last time I saw him, but my memory failed me. I figured it must have been about 50 years.

Then a pickup truck came into view as it rounded a curve. My gut told me it was him. Sure enough, the pickup slowed and turned into the driveway and pulled off into the grass by the barn. The drivers door opened, and an old man emerged. The years had taken their toll, for sure, and I would have never recognized him after all this time, but I knew it was him. Of course, the years had gotten in a few good licks on me too. He wouldn’t recognize me either, I knew.

He walked to the back of his truck, turning his back to me, and the others who had gathered for this special day. He dropped the tail gate of his truck and was reaching for something as I walked up behind him.

“You’d be my Uncle Donny,” I said.

He turned around and looked at me. My heart seemed overwhelmed with what I can only describe as absolute and total love for this old man who now stood before me.

“I’m Charles, Charles’ boy.”

I extended my hand, smiling, but fighting back tears. He paused for a moment, looking at me, as if trying get his mind around what had just happened to him. He stepped forward, ignoring my hand, and embraced me with a big bear hug, which I returned. After a long embrace we pulled back and looked at each other. Tears flowed from both our eyes; happy tears. We embraced again, and then made our way over to all the others who had gathered for what I call the Kentucky Hamm Clan Reunion.

My grandfather, Charles Henry Hamm, had seven children, 5 boys and 2 girls. My daddy, also Charles, was the third of the seven. Donny was the baby of the family, and now the only one still with us. He was the patriarch of the Kentucky Clan now. When I first attended this reunion three years ago I was walking into a world of mostly strangers who I had never met, and others I had not seen since I was a child. I was equally a total stranger to them.

But a wonderful dynamic played out on this amazing day. I started meeting these “strangers.” They were first cousins I had never met, and their children, and grandchildren. They were the extended families of my aunts and uncles. The connections we all shared through those seven children of Charles Henry created a bond of blood. Hugs, firm hand shakes, tears and much laughter were the order of the day. Lots of stories were told. These folks made me feel so special. They all knew each other, of course. I was the real stranger. They wanted to know all about me, and my memories of their mothers and fathers – my aunts and uncles. Charles Henry died when I was nine years old, but I had memories of him. They wanted to hear those stories as well.

What a day it turned out to be. I have faithfully attended the reunion for three straight years now. It is not quite the same as the first time. We aren’t strangers now. We’re family, bound by blood.

If you’ve lost touch with extended family, folks, I wish such a day for each of you. You’ll make some treasured memories.