It’s early Saturday morning—cloudy and cool—which is very unusual for Texas in the summer, but the quiet kind of morning that is perfect for waking up slowly with a cup of coffee in my Munich Starbucks souvenir mug and my computer in my lap.
The house smells of brisket. Sherrylee put 7-8 pounds of trimmed brisket into the oven last night before we went to bed, so that it would be ready by noon today for the Lyles family reunion.
I say the Lyles family reunion, but there will be very few people named Lyles at the reunion. These gatherings started when my grandmother Mary Dooley Lyles was still living. She had been widowed since about 1938, when her husband Willis E. Lyles was killed in a wagon accident on the family farm near Justin, Texas. He left her with nine living children, two other sons having died in infancy and another very young.
I don’t know when she moved to Denton, but that’s all I remember. As a boy growing up in Fort Worth, we would go there often. Seems like Thanksgiving was the most common gathering time. With so many aunts and uncles, Grandma Lyles’s little house was overfilled with relatives, so we cousins had to stay outside and play. Those were still the days when the grown-ups ate first and the children came later. Things have changed, haven’t they!
Irby was the oldest—some fifteen years older than my mother—so we didn’t really know him as well, but he always seemed like a kind man. Then came Uncle Bud. He was a banker and had no children, but he used to make us believe his nose made a strange cracking sound if you moved it. Woodrow was next in line, born in 1912. He was quiet, but we all knew he had been in WWII. Grandma had his picture in uniform sitting on the old black upright piano in her house.
Uncle Dock was a bachelor most of his life, living with Grandma until he married quite late in life, a marriage which did not go well, so he finished his life a bachelor as well.
Next came the first daughter Aunt Mary—we have lots of Marys in our family, so she was known as “Mary V.” Perhaps because my mom is the youngest sister, we always seemed closer to our aunts’ families than our uncles. Or maybe it was just that the sisters were closer in age, so their children were our nearest cousins in age.
Aunt Ruth was the next sister. She married her high school sweetheart Frank, who became blind within the first year of their marriage, still they had four children and ran a dairy farm with 50+ cows, sometimes sheep, and probably a lot more that I have no idea about. Uncle Frank taught me how to make coke floats one summer while I was staying with them—totally the city boy on the farm!!
Another son slipped into the family at the number 10 spot J.P. Lyles. According to my mom, his parents couldn’t agree on his name, so he was just given the initials– which is what they could agree upon. We grew up quite close to his family; in fact, we still go to church with one of his daughters.
Mom (Daisy) was next, followed by Uncle Gene, the last of the Lyles clan. Gene lived near us also, so we saw his family a lot, but Gene went his own way. He became a preacher and preached almost until the day he died.
Gene died last October; Aunt Ruth died April 14th of this year—the day before Mom’s 91st birthday. She’s the last of her immediate family—including all the spouses of her siblings.
Today will be a family reunion of cousins, cousins and their families—and Mom. Mom has organized this reunion for many years now, but today will be the first time when she is alone at the table where “the older generation” has always sat. Lots of us will have our pictures made with her–the little kids reluctantly because old people are a little scary!
And then we will all go home, wondering if there will be a family reunion next summer!
And at the very moment that each of us has that thought, I hope and pray that our first thoughts will be: well, if not, there will be a wonderful day when we are all together again—the whole family—singing hymns of praise, just like we used to at Grandma Lyles’s house on Thanksgiving Day.
One of the great honors of my life was to serve on the faculty at Oklahoma Christian with Dr. Stafford North—who is still teaching there, by the way. One of the things he taught me by example was to continue leading the succeeding generations of your family toward God so that the Big Family Reunion is complete. He told us that as they parted after visits or trips together, one of the things he has always said is “Be there!”
That’s all. “Be there” was his way of reminding his children, grandchildren, and now great grandchildren, I’m sure, to live such lives that they will always be together and no one will be missing “when the roll is called up yonder.”
I believe all of the Lyleses were people of faith. They were a family sometimes of few words, but the legacy that has been passed down is one of faith. That’s the legacy I want to leave for our grandchildren as well.
Perhaps there ought to be posters or banners on the walls at every family reunion that simply say, “Be there!”