Family Reunions: A Sense of Legacy

w: Johnathon E. Briggs

w: Johnathon E. Briggs

Family Reunions: A Sense of Legacy

DETROIT (July 14 and 15, 2017)—A smoky sizzle permeated the air as my cousin, Dana, manned the barbecue grill. She flipped burgers, hot dogs, and kabobs for hours at Belle Isle Park as descendants of the Jones and Jordan families gathered along the Detroit River under the shade of Pavilion No. 9. They had traveled from near and far to attend a family reunion, an occasion greeted by a bright summer sky.

I was one of the long distance travelers. I drove four and a half hours—306 miles—from Chicago with my two-year-old daughter in tow, arriving at the Comfort Suites in Southfield, Mich. just after midnight Friday. My connection to the gathering was my paternal grandmother Mamie Jones, born in Atchison, Kansas in 1910 to Enoch Jones and Luella Jordan.

Mamie was the 7th child of 14 siblings and later married Edward Briggs Sr., my grandfather, a cab driver and quarry worker who had a penchant for fedoras and thick cigars. My father, Edward Briggs, was born of that union. Mamie later married James William Powell, a 9th and 10th Calvary Buffalo Soldier, and became Mrs. Mamie Lue Powell, the family matriarch.

In 2006, I had the bittersweet pleasure of meeting Mamie for the first time at a nursing home; in 2007, I had the honor of serving as a pall bearer at her funeral. She was 96.

This was my first Jones & Jordan Family Reunion and I probably would have missed it had it not been for my cousin, Lynn, and my aunt, Linda, who inboxed me on Facebook with details. (Thank you, Mark Zuckerberg, for inventing something useful). I saw them both sitting beneath the shingled roof of the pavilion when I arrived Friday afternoon at the family picnic, a gathering of toddlers and elders, brothers and sisters, cousins and first cousins, aunts, and uncles, faces I’d seen before and others I was meeting for the first time.

I didn’t grow up with the ritual of attending family reunions, so the nostalgia and fondness of such occasions used to be lost on me.

That was until 2006 when, in my 30s, I connected with my dad’s family. They invited me to their family reunions and I quickly learned these occasions served as touch points of connectedness and history. Nearly all of my relatives seem to have a memory (for better or worse) tied to a family reunion.

Taking in the view of the Jones-Jordan clan under the pavilion felt like a verse from Jill Scott’s “Family Reunion” come to life:

We at the family reunion
Tellin’ jokes and playin spades
Uncle Dave is on the barbecue grill
Grandma braggin’ bout the blanket she made
For the new baby on her way
Even though the daddy ain’t really ready
This child is coming anyway yeah
Niecy made her famous potato salad
Somehow it turns out green
Maybe it’s all the scallions
Could be the celery
But oh Uncle Jerome loves it 

The next evening, the Jones and Jordan families gathered again. This time it was for a family dinner at the local Knights of Columbus banquet hall. A deejay spun tunes. A professional photographer took family portraits. Prizes were given to the oldest and youngest relatives in attendance and to those who had traveled the furthest (Atlanta) and helped the most with the reunion (my cousin Dana for her dedication to grill duty the day before).

The photo placemat from the 2017 Jones & Jordan Family Reunion dinner.

But the kicker for me was the dinner itself. Not the food, but the symbolism.

Placemats at each table featured a collage of fifteen family photos from reunions past. When I looked down, I saw Mamie Powell, the family matriarch, staring back at me from a picture just below the reunion logo, wearing her pearls. When I looked up, I saw the eldest members of the Jones and Jordan clan seated together—in a row of honor—facing the banquet hall, their tables draped in white linen. From our vantage point, it seemed we were staring at the Past; from theirs, the Future.

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Mamie (right), the family matriarch, was pictured on the Family Dinner placemat, wearing pearls. Mamie's daughter, Linda (center) with her daughters, Dana (left) and Dawn (right). My daughter was obsessed with pulling a fold-up utility cart that resembled a Radio Flyer wagon.

707 words


Johnathon E. BriggsA 40-something father who favors wingtips + statement socks • Husband • Autism Dad • Comic Book Fan • ΑΦΑ

    Mamie (right), the family matriarch, was pictured on the Family Dinner placemat, wearing pearls. Mamie's daughter, Linda (center) with her daughters, Dana (left) and Dawn (right). My daughter was obsessed with pulling a fold-up utility cart that resembled a Radio Flyer wagon.

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Six weeks before my 40th birthday, I became a first-time father. This life-changing moment made me think about my own dad, who became a father at 44. As my parenthood journey unfolded, I noticed that most of my friends had become parents earlier in life yet, here I was, changing diapers and battling sleep deprivation at (nearly) 40. I told my wife, “Parenting is definitely a young man’s game.” But is it really?

Where most of my friends were preparing for their children’s middle and high school graduations, I was mastering the art of the swaddle, perfecting the one-hand baby wipe, and learning to decipher my daughter’s gurgles and whimpers. It occurred to me that I had so much more to offer my daughter at the sure-footed age of 40 than I did at, say, 28, when I was still coming into my own.

In this awareness, I gained an appreciation for where I am in life and the idea for Fatherhood@Forty was born. Fatherhood@Forty is a creative outlet to blog about my experiences and inspire other (relatively) late-in-life dads. It’s been said that each child is their own assignment and I believe each parent’s journey is its own destination.

Here are a few factoids about me, Johnathon Briggs, the editor behind this blog:

  • I am a former journalist (Los Angeles Times, The Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune).
  • I love exploring Chicago and the Midwest with my family.
  • I remain on a constant quest to stay fit.
  • I support charities that fight HIV, uplift families affected by incarceration, and ensure African American boys graduate from college.
  • I enjoy reading comic books and binge-watching House of Cards.
  • I am a child of the ‘80s, so please expect occasional references to the Golden Age of Hip-Hop.

As a reporter for daily newspapers, I had the opportunity to interview fascinating people and to test out great products and brands for my readers. I hope to do the same for you as I blog about the moments that make up this adventure called fatherhood.

Please email me if you’d like to collaborate or have ideas for a blog post:

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Disclaimer: Fatherhood@Forty may contain affiliate marketing links, which may result in commission on sales of products or services I write about. My editorial content is not influenced by advertisers or affiliate partnerships. This disclosure is provided in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR § 255.5: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.
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