Byrds of a Feather
Lovey LouEmma Andrews was 13 when she married 15-year-old Henry Isom Byrd. I was 4 years old when she died. I don’t remember her, but folks say her name fit her. She was my mama’s mama’s mama. My mama told me she sat at Mama Byrd’s bedside after her stroke and prayed that she could be a woman like Mama Byrd.
Daddy Byrd was a circuit-riding Primitive Baptist preacher. (His daddy, John Curtis Byrd, lost an arm in the Civil War.) Folks say he was a good man with a fiery temper. Mama Byrd would fret when he got angry and say, “Now, Hon.” Josie Bell, his baby, could always talk her way out of trouble with him.
They birthed 11 children. Eight lived to adulthood. Coy was murdered as a young man. The other 7 lived to old age: 2 men (both called Brother by their adoring sisters), 5 women (all called Granny by their adoring grandchildren. United, they were the Granny Squad.)
The Granny Squad was scattered from Gadsden to Tampa, but they congregated several times a year, mainly to argue about what to eat. They liked to go to the beach together. They went to the mountains a time or two. They went to Disney World soon after EPCOT opened.
“Did we eat in Mexico?”
“No, it was China. Don’t you remember the pretty girls?”
“No, it wasn’t! I think it was Mexico.”
Their favorite thing to argue about was the reunion. Mama Byrd wanted her family together once a year. She knew other family obligations pulled during the holidays, so she established the Saturday before the second Sunday in August as Byrd Reunion Day. And they argued about that. Don’t assume that the Saturday before the second Sunday in August is the second Saturday. Most of the time that’s true, but if August 1st falls on Sunday, then the Saturday before the Second Sunday is the first Saturday. Clear as gravy?
The reunion was held at Mama and Daddy Byrd’s house until their deaths in 1970, when the Granny Squad decided that each of the Byrd children would take a turn hosting: first Uncle Cecil then Aunt Gladys then Aunt Mattie then Aunt Mary then Aunt Effie then Uncle Johnny then Aunt Jo then back to Uncle Cecil. The host would bring the fried chicken, the paper goods, and the drinks. Everybody else would bring a side dish. Or 2. Or 3. However, no matter how much was brought, the Grannies fretted that we were not going to have enough to eat.
The first few years after Mama and Daddy Byrd’s deaths, the family gathered at the rec center in Enterprise. A couple of times, we met at a room in the Newton library. At about the same time, Lanell’s family and Aunt Jo’s family each purchased a house at Lake Eufaula. We have gone back and forth between the two houses for more than 3 decades. I am certain that we will be still be assembling there when Jesus comes back. (Actually, He really should take the Byrd reunion into consideration when deciding upon which day to make His reappearance.)
Since school starts earlier now, we backed up the date to the end of July. (In 2011 and 2012, there were 5 Saturdays in July. Was it supposed to be held the 4th Saturday in July or the LAST Saturday in July? Reckon we’ll ever get the kinks worked out?) The day is standard:
· We begin to flock about 11.
· We fret about there not being enough food.
· Billy Brown and Jimmy May start griping about “When are we gonna eat?!”
· We go outside and form a circle.
· The host welcomes everybody.
· We talk about who has died.
· And who was born.
· We discuss whose “time” it is next year.
· We remember how much we loved Mama and Daddy Byrd.
· We sing “Amazing Grace.”
· We hold hands and pray.
· We take a group picture.
· Billy Brown and Jimmy May knock little children down to get to the front of the line.
We have sung "Amazing Grace" at the graveside of both Brothers and all but one of the Granny Squad. We cling to the baby Josie Bell, our beloved Aunt Jo. The hosts of the reunion are now the grandchildren of Mama and Daddy Byrd, except in Aunt Gladys’s family. Since Lanell died young-ish, the mantel of host has passed to the great grandchildren of Isom and Lovey. Mama and Daddy Byrd have a few GREAT-GREAT-GREAT grandchildren, at least one who is unborn. The firstborn of that generation attended her first reunion last July.
In 2009, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the wedding of Isom and Lovey. There are at least 150 living Byrds, including spouses. There are usually around 50 people who show up to eat and laugh--and maybe cry--together every summer. In the youngest generation of the descendants of the Brothers, there are only 5 with the surname Byrd, and 4 are female. We have only one Byrd left with the chance to carry on the name. But we are all Byrds.
More than 40 years after the deaths of Isom and Lovey Byrd, their people still gather. We know each other. We love each other. And there is always enough food.
Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you. Deuteronomy 32:7