The Last Family Party


I got the call from my mom last May.  My Great Aunt Inez was turning 90 and they were throwing a party.  She lived in Anderson, Indiana, about 20 miles northeast of Indianapolis.  It’s a five hour drive for us, but I was glad to make the trip.  I always liked my Aunt Inez.  And I’m always up for a family party.  There aren’t too many places that haven’t changed from my childhood.  However, my Aunt Inez’s house is one of them.  I found a picture from – I don’t know when; my grandma and grandpa had dark hair.  There they were, standing together in a kitchen.  I showed it to Meka and she immediately recognized where it was taken.  As far as I can tell, time stopped there somewhere around 1960.

It isn’t very large, just a little ranch house on the corner.  Her son Jack had tables and tents set up in the yard.  Daniel doesn’t have too many close relatives, so it’s always nice to find a way to introduce him to more family.  He ended up playing cars with some kids around his age.  They were related in some fashion; I just told him they were “cousins”.  We saw relatives from across the United States.  We drove about 300 miles, but my mom drove almost twice that.  Her cousin David came in from the Carolinas and others drove in from Florida.

Throughout it all, my Great Aunt Inez held court in her living room.  Someone had given her a tiara and plastic scepter which she wielded with good humor.  Opening all of her gifts took the better part of the afternoon.  As the sun was going down in the west, I gathered everyone together to take a picture of us all.  My aunt’s yard was too small, but the driveway next door was long and flat and perfect.

“What if they don’t want us to take a picture?” someone asked.

“Who cares?” I replied.  “We outnumber them.”

Everyone walked across 8th Street and stood in a long row while I set up the camera.  Aunt Inez took a seat in the center of the crowd.  I set the timer and ran to a place along the side.

“Everyone say ‘Take the frigging picture!'”  I actually said “frigging” because Aunt Inez didn’t approve of coarse language.

“TAKE THE FRIGGING PICTURE!”

The camera flashed once, twice, three times.  Everyone started to move, but I motioned them to hold their positions, just in case, while I check to see if everything had worked.  It did.  The picture turned out fine; a nice souvenir from a classic family party.

I got the call from my mom Monday night.  My Great Aunt Inez passed away in the evening.  She had been ill for about a week.  She was 91 years old.  I’m driving down to Anderson again.  It’s sad, of course; no one likes to say goodbye.  But there’s bound to be a crowd.  I’ll see plenty of cousins, I’m sure, from around the country.  And with the tears, there will be smiles and some laughter as we reminisce at her final farewell: one last family party.

Happy 90th Birthday, Aunt Inez!
Happy 90th Birthday, Aunt Inez!
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2 comments

  1. Bob(I always want to say Bobby)a terrific picture – thanks for you effort. Also, thanks for the great tribute to Aunt Inez. She always spoke so fondly of you. Love, cousin Mary (Toots)

  2. Aunt Inez was born #6 of the 12 children born to Thomas and Matte Ellis, and one of 10 who survived to adulthood. From what Aunt Inez told me, big farm families were typical when she was young. She was the last to die at the age of 91. She had one son of her own, and she had 30 nieces and nephews. Of the original 31 cousins, only 25 are left. Out of those 25, 22 attended this party — either alone or with members of their own families. They came from North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Illinois, Michigan, as well as various places in Indiana. They all brought food and talked and laughed and got to know each other. It was a nice party to attend because you didn’t really have to make a good “first impression.” We tend to accept people as they are –warts and all– if they are family. It was such a great time, we all agreed to celebrate her birthday every two years. Aunt Inez loved the idea, too…but she didn’t make it that long. However, her family has decided to go ahead and have a “cousins reunion” every two years–perhaps at different locations, at different cousins’ homes in different states. Some may drop out–that’s how things often go–But I think a number of us will continue getting together as long as we are able to travel. Aunt Inez’ most special trait was her ability to remember birthdates of every brother and sister, their children, their grandchildren, and even the few great-grandchildren! We were all special to her. She inspired love of family in us and I think continuing to stay close to each other would be a fitting tribute to her.

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