LESLIE CRISS: Our family ties should be tended through the years

By Leslie Criss/NEMS Daily Journal

“A cousin is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost.”
– Marion C. Garretty

“Generations pass like leaves fall from our family tree. Each season new life blossoms and grows benefiting from the strength and experience of those who went before.”
– Heidi Swapp

I attended a family reunion of sorts last week. It was the first time I’d seen some of my kin in way too long.
Sadly, the occasion was the funeral of my dad’s youngest brother, my uncle John.
Seems a shame it took a death to once again bring the Criss/McRae family members together.
I’d written about my three uncles a few weeks ago after news of John’s tenuous diagnosis reached Tupelo. I’ve always believed it’s best to write or say good things about folks while they are alive to read or hear those things.
We gathered in the late afternoon of Memorial Day at a funeral home in Hot Springs, Ark., for that part of the process known as visitation.
When I arrived, my cousin Lisa – the first-born of John’s four children – introduced me as “my oldest cousin.” She laughed and apologized for making me sound old.
Truth is, looking around at her three children, two of them teenagers, who were toddling when last I saw them, I realized I have become the older generation.
Lisa’s brother John Jr. – Criss as we’ve always called him – introduced me to his three children as “my cousin.” I reminded him I was also his children’s cousin.
His youngest son, Rafe, is the spitting image of his daddy when he was that age, and my memories took me back to a long-ago time when my sister and I took Criss on a trip to the Gulf Coast.
There are two other children from Uncle John’s second marriage – Lane and Tyler. I’ve not had the good fortune to know them as well, but I’d like to.
I know there was a lot of talk about the legacy left by my uncle. I believe his greatest legacy is his four children and six grandchildren whose love for him was beautifully expressed through tears and laughter, and stories shared.
On Wednesday morning, we gathered once again, under a hot, early-June sun in a cemetery in my hometown of Grenada.
The shade of the funeral home tent was reserved for my dad and his remaining two brothers, and a few others. A slight but welcomed breeze puffed intermittently as more cousins from different sides of the family arrived to say goodbye.
I smiled to myself as I saw some favorite cousins from my childhood had made it from as close as Coffeeville and as far away as Louisiana. I was no longer the oldest cousin present.
Later in the coolness of my cousin Julia’s home, we broke bread together – along with a cornucopia of fresh vegetables cooked just like our grandmother once did.
Three surviving brothers visited. Cousins galore reconnected.
Hugs were shared as we loaded up our vehicles and headed, once again, in many different directions.
My cousin Jim Jr. said to several of us as we were leaving, “We need to get back to having reunions like we did when Mammaw was alive. We should do it for our children.”
We should do it for all of us.

“Family faces are magic mirrors.
Looking at people who belong to us, we see the past, present and future.
We make discoveries about ourselves.”
– Gail Lumet Buckley

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you,
but at the same time you carry them
with you in your heart, your mind,
your stomach, because you do not
just live in a world but a world
lives in you.”
– Frederick Buechner

Contact Leslie Criss at (662) 678-1584 or leslie.criss@journalinc.com.

Click video to hear audio