Family reunions are as much a part of summer as sweet watermelon, flickering lightning bugs and long simmering days. My mother-in-law, Alice, and her family, the Dishmans, gather every summer at one sibling’s home or the other to rekindle family ties.
Despite differences in political views, faith, careers, seasons of life, food preferences or changing weather – or perhaps because of them – these reunions are about honoring the roots of family. Nestled in rural King George, Virginia, this family of seven children, born in the years between 1918 and 1932, has a rich history. The father, Sam Dishman, was the county sheriff and the mother, Betty Grigsby Dishman, taught in a one room school house in the community of Tetotum.
With only three siblings remaining, family reunions are poignant. There is the unspoken, yet shared understanding, of the preciousness of this life. And a meal of fried chicken and barbeque and steamed crabs, with creamy coleslaw and baked beans and ice cream, commemorates our gratitude for the place where we began.
I am reminded of a line from the novel Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry which reads, “Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circling or a doubling back.” The longer I live, the richer and fuller my understanding becomes of this place and this family. If identity is formed in relation to place, then perhaps this returning to home and the people we grew up alongside, or those who share our heritage, can make us more whole . . . or less broken.
I only know that I have an unquenchable desire to photograph these people, these rural places, and the artifacts of living, to make sense of what I see and feel.