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A Saturday Reunion

The end of June brought us one week closer to the start of another football season. We now have nine weeks to wait. It also brought another event that are as annual as football seasons, my family reunion.

The gathering was of the descendents of Richard Cephas Alderson and Sallie Brown Adams, a line begun a few years following their marriage on the 27th day of October in 1891. Since then very few of us have been married during football season.

The event was held in the social hall and on the grounds of the Mount Tabor Baptist Church. Imagine a country church and the chances are very good you are picturing Mount Tabor. It is located in Keeling, Virginia, a few miles outside of Danville, right smack in the middle of an area where tobacco farms are a prominent feature on the picturesque landscape. There are not many places left in Southside Virginia where tobacco is still grown in quantity, but this is one.

These Alderson reunions are always held on the last Saturday in June. This is at least in part due to the large numbers of Virginia Tech alumni in the family, a group that includes the cousin of mine who organizes the event. While there are a few graduates of other schools, most notably one from the United States Naval Academy, a good chunk of us are Hokies. We will attend one held in June.

This is in stark contrast to those held by the other side of my family, where the practice of holding them in October means I attend very few. And, considering that up to five of the seven surviving grandchildren of Eugene Field and Mary Jane Moorefield can often be found in Lane Stadium during home football games, very few of my cousins are attending them, either [we take doing our part to uphold that tradition of great fan support for which Virginia Tech football is renowned much more seriously than we do family reunions]. While my mother did come up with a way to get us all together last November on the Saturday Tech played at Miami, it was not a method she will be able to employ again. Holding reunions in June makes much more sense, at least to me.

Cephas, at age twenty-five, married the twenty-one year-old Sallie and immediately discontinued sowing the wild oats that has caused him a bit of notoriety in the community and instead began planting tobacco. Sallie obviously had a calming effect on him that a succession of wives never quite managed on one of his grandsons.

Cephas passed along to his descendents what seems to be a universal wry sense of humor and a genetic predisposition that has allowed medical practitioners from Virginia to Colorado to pay for brand new Mercedes and finance vacations to Bora Bora with the rich proceeds earned from performing prostate examinations on Alderson men and treating the problems often found in those examinations.

A house was eventually built that over a century later still provides shelter for their line of Aldersons, currently occupied by a great-grandson with his own small children, which by my count makes five generations of the family to have lived there. In this age of mobility that seems impressive.

I never knew my paternal grandparents Cephas and Sallie. Both had departed this existence many years before I made my debut. Very few pictures of either can be found. There was one of him displaying an impressive handlebar mustache. Two of Grandma are known to exist; in both she has affixed the camera with what looks to be a simmering rage created by a hard-working farm wife who figured she had much more important things to do than engage in the frivolity of having her picture taken. Considering the near-constant click of digital cameras that provided background noise for this reunion, a lack of pictures is not going to be a problem for future generations of Aldersons.

As is always the case at Alderson reunions and I imagine those of every other family, the high point of the gathering was the meal. My strategy of showing up bearing nothing but a knife and fork and the demand of ‘Gimme Eat’ works just as well at reunions as it does at football tailgates. I gorged secure in the knowledge that of the superbly prepared food that I was stuffing into my mouth at a fast rate I had contributed none.

There are good reasons why these reunion meals are held in such high regard. Alderson women are famous throughout North America for the high quality of their skills in the kitchen. Since the family lineage has been traced back to 1600s England, I’m guessing they are just as well known in Europe. There are some seriously good cooks to be found in the family.

Among them is the daughter of my father’s sister. Her mother was renowned for her culinary skills and this cousin is a chip off the old block. Her contributions to the communal food table caused me to conduct a pre-meal reconnaissance to scout out which of the covered dishes bore her name. The chorus of ‘Amen’ from the meal’s blessing had not even died down before I was racing for the food table to grab for myself the lion’s share of what she had brought. It was worth it.

I bring a somewhat unique status to these Alderson gatherings. The union of Cephas and Sallie produced three sons and a daughter. Of their four sons who had the ‘Junior’ designation affixed to the end of their names, I am the only one left among the quick. As of this year, the middle of my Fifties, I have now lived to a riper age than did any of the other three. Alderson men are not famous for their extraordinarily long life spans. These below-par longevity rates are something I plan on changing, seeing if I can’t inch them up a bit.

There are and have been a number of professions visited by members of this family. They include and have included a variety from computer programming to teacher to nurse to insurance to cable television to construction to real estate to naval officer to other things. None at present seem to be engaged in the tobacco farming that was the foundation of the family. The attitude of my father seems to have spread.

He was not long into his twenties when he decided that he had very little interest in the cultivation of tobacco, a decision that has left me eternally grateful. Dad moved to the nearby city of Danville where he worked for a brief period selling insurance. World War II ended that career. After a few years engaged in battle with the German Army he returned to Danville and found his calling in the building of houses. He settled in with my mother and did his part in the continuation of the Alderson line.

For those not bored to tears and still reading and might be wondering about the math that involved people marrying in 1891 having a son fighting in World War II and a grandson born some sixty-one years after their nuptials, there is an explanation.

My father’s two brothers and sister were all between 15-19 years older than he. Cephas was forty-eight and Sallie forty-four when the Old Man made his appearance. I would imagine they were quite surprised.

Dad was joined in the struggle against the Hun by four of his nephews, my first cousins, all old enough to fight in a war that ended seven years before I was born.

Dad was in his late thirties by the time I got around to being born. This followed years of enthusiastic effort at procreation on the part of my parents. Over half a century later, I continue to procrastinate.

The results of all these mid-life couplings are a few generational oddities. While Cephas was born in 1866, my maternal grandfather arrived in 1895, around the same time my father’s oldest brother was checking in. While I am the oldest grandson on my mother’s side, I am the second youngest on Dad’s, postdated only by my brother, born ninety years after Cephas. I have some first cousins quite a bit older than I and in fact I am much closer in age to their children [in about four cases, exactly the same age]. I’m sure there are other families where the births of first cousins span almost forty years, but I don’t know of any.

Dad was the baby in his family, but not for long. He had barely graduated to solid food when the first of his seventeen nieces and nephews began popping up. Back then, farm families tended to be large ones. As Dad entered grammar school, his brothers and sister were hard at work fleshing out the numbers in this tribe of Aldersons. Like my father, Madison Alderson, my uncles Clarence Alderson, Wade Alderson and aunt Katherine Alderson Elliott were very good people.

One of his brothers ran the family farm. The other operated a country store in the Keeling community and ferried by bus generations of area school children to their educations. His sister married a farmer and they settled in Whitmell on the other side of the county. They all lived their lives as very solid citizens under a set of values instilled in them by Cephas and Sallie, values that at times seem to be becoming as scare as the dwindling number of tobacco farms in Pittsylvania County.

The succeeding generations seem to be acquitting themselves pretty well, too. I might be considered the sole exception. It is a group I consider myself very fortunate to be related to and look forward to seeing again next June.

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