Mon, Dec 18, 2017 08:37 AM
Wednesday, March 8, 2017 issue
2003-08-08 communities
Smile Awhile
The Wheeler family reunion
Sara Hopson
During the summer months, every newspaper in Eastern Kentucky is filled with announcements about upcoming family reunions. And while ours isn't advertised, the Wheeler reunion is held every year on the second Saturday in August at various locations throughout Kentucky and Tennessee.

Although there aren't many of the Orion and Olga Wheeler clan left, the remaining relatives find a way to visit with each other even if it's just for a few brief hours. This year's annual feast was held at the home of Aunt Peggy's son, John Christopher Wilson, in Knoxville, Tenn. He resides there with his wife, Shirley. and his daughter. Courtney Jo.

Ronnie and I traveled to the Volunteer State with Dr. Jan Ball, her husband, Johnny, and Jan's mother, (my aunt) Barbara. Jan and Johnny drove from Huntington, W.Va., and picked us up on Saturday morning at approximately 10 a.m.

Meanwhile, my oldest sister, Melinda, and her husband, Ed, drove from Midway, Ky., bringing their three granddaughters, Lucy Kate, Mattison Celeste and Adele Beck. They were followed by my youngest sister, Amanda, her husband, Willy (who lives in Indianapolis), and our nephew, Joshua (our sister Jenny's son).

Our oldest cousin, Ann Wheeler, came from Atlanta, while her daughter, Liz, along with her three daughters, ranging in age from 10 years to 8 months, drove all the way from Bonham, Texas.

Despite the long journeys, everyone made special dishes for the occasion. In our caravan, there was a German Chocolate cake, a broccoli casserole, green beans, cornbread salad. scalloped potatoes, deviled eggs, pinwheels, a green pepper casserole and a fruit salad.

Other vehicles boasted pea salad, ravishing rice, artichoke dip, squash, okra, and pineapple casseroles, while the host and hostess prepared the meat and desserts. (This may be an exaggeration, but I don't think it's possible to cook a meal anymore without a can of mushroom soup).

It's extremely difficult to visit with everyone at these reunions. By the time you fill your plate at least three times and exchange a few pleasantries about getting older and how things were much simpler 50 years ago, it's time to leave.

When we were growing up, all of us lived in Paintsville, except for John Christopher and Ann Wheeler. But John stayed with us nearly every summer and Ann Wheeler lived here and attended her junior year at Paintsville High School, so we always had a connection. But the years have a way of changing things, and people go their own ways and live their own lives. That's the natural order of things. But thankfully, these yearly get-togethers help everyone reconnect with their roots.

Finally, it was time to leave, and we all loaded into our vehicles for our trips back to various states. We hugged and kissed John and his family goodbye and blew kisses to Melinda and her grandchildren as we pulled away from John's Tennessee home. Things were going good until we were about 20 minutes outside of Knoxville and Ronnie said, "I hate to tell you this, Johnny, but I left my camera at John's house."

"That's all right," Johnny replied as he made an illegal U-turn. "We'll just go back and get it."

Now, unbeknownst to Ronnie, my mother had always told me that it's bad luck to have to backtrack after starting a trip, but I didn't say a word as we headed back to John's. An hour later, we were on the road heading north.

Since we don't get to see Jan and Johnny much either, it was a treat to get to visit with them and Aunt Barbara. Jan is witty and clever, John has a contagious laughter, and Ronnie keeps things pretty lively himself. At one point, the conversation got around to talking about teeth. That's when Jan said, "Did you know that the man who invented the toothbrush was from West Virginia?"

When we all said that we didn't, Jan replied, "Well, if it had been invented anywhere else it would have been called a teethbrush."

After I quit laughing, we passed a graveyard and I pointed out that the people who lived in that area couldn't be buried there.

"That's because they're not dead yet, right?" Aunt Barbara blurted out.

"You ruined my joke," I lamented.

"Sara," Jan interrupted. "Do you know why they always have chairs beside coffins?"

When I answered that I didn't know, she said, "For Rigor Mortis to set in."

Good food and conversation, corny jokes, babies and our elderly family treasures it's what reunions are all about. Until next year, everybody stay healthy, and I love you.

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