May . . . family reunion & summertime kickoff

When Mack Gardner and I thought up an annual McAlpin Family Reunion in 1972, neither of us knew that we and our cousins would come and continue to come every year with our children, theirs, and theirs. But mark the calendar: the 4th Sunday in May, Every Year, the Lawrence and Kit Ware McAlpin Family reunites at The Old Place in Smith County, Mississippi.

We started innocently enough. Our mothers — sisters — each had eight brothers. Almost all of them had gathered that fall for a Sunday lunch, and we “second generation” first cousins were there. Wouldn’t this be more fun, we asked, if ALL our cousins could be here? How difficult would it be for each of the First Generation to gather their clans next spring for a “dinner on the grounds” reunion? Not.

That’s how it began. Thirty-nine years and looking forward to the 40th consecutive event in 2012. If it were a wedding anniversary, we’d exchange rubies. Bonds between and among family members ebb and rise without visible tide yet remain as constant as an ocean’s motion. And so the reunion continues, sometimes on Memorial Day Weekend, often not: always the official summertime kickoff on the 4th Sunday of May.

Just one earth-bound remains of the First Generation: Aunt Veattress, matriarch of the McAlpins; she, the first born sister, older than Etha, who died in 2006 only days before her 85th birthday. All the brothers, gone: Clefton, Erhman, Zollie Bill, Newell, Gabriel, Drummonds, Newman, Fairrell. But their offspring remain and come as we all can, all bringing food to share under the open pavilion built in sight of where stood the last house Mama and Papa Mac shared.

Some bring new dishes — a different salad or just-discovered casserole — but most follow tradition and bring expected delectables that probably originated in her mother’s own kitchen decades ago. Chicken and dumplings arrive in the same pot great aunts brought in the 70s. Pots of peas, cornbread, and cakes — nobody notices the container so much as notes that favorite foods grace the long wooden table.

Mizrizbaboo rocked tradition this year, though, and did not arrive with her usual barbequed baked beans. Early arrivals seem to have left space for the huge blue roaster that most years comes with about four pounds of delicious, but a clear glass bowl of black bean salad took the place. Few complained, though some did question. Those who tested the new addition proclaimed it good and called for the beans’ return next year. Not even potato salad and deviled eggs plus the salad sufficiently satisfied.

So, OK. The beans return next year. But for those who enjoyed the Black Bean Salad, drain a large can of black beans and add red or yellow pepper, diced; 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion; one to two cups cherry or grape tomatoes; one tablespoon olive oil and another of balsamic vinegar; one to two teaspoons ground cumin seeds. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and chill for several hours, If desired, garnish with avocado slices before serving.

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