While growing up primarily in South Florida, my brother and I were mostly surrounded by my father’s side of the family from Jamaica. Since most of my mom’s side of the family live in California and South Carolina, I never had a chance to bond with that side of my family. In recent years, however, I’ve gotten more familiar with some relatives in South Carolina. Moving to California in 2011 has also given me a chance to reconnect with my cousins out here. Yet there are still so many relatives on my mom’s side who I haven’t met.
My mom’s side of the family traces back to the Campbell’s, and they have a family reunion every two years that I’ve only attended once, back in 2010 in Baltimore. It is now 2016 and time for me to reconnect with that side of my family. A few weeks ago, I went to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to attend this year’s family reunion. In all transparency, I was never a huge fan of the state, mainly because it is a bit too isolated and quiet for me, but surprisingly it has grown on me more with every visit.
I vaguely remember visiting the state as a child with my brother. We stayed at my Aunt Ruth’s house (whom my mom is named after). I distinctly remember the scent of cigarette smoke and playing outside on our aunt’s porch. I remember the house feeling small and dark yet cozy and warm. I remember seeing a stack of bricks in the yard, and I remember running around with my brother and cousin on hot summer days. I also remember feeling like being in South Carolina was like being in a far away place that didn’t really exist, like Dorothy in Oz.
My experience evolved when I revisited South Carolina 11 years ago when I was in college (I wrote about that experience here). I remember visiting the small town of Cameron to visit my aunt, uncle, and cousins for Thanksgiving. I remember tasting my Aunt Ele’s amazing sweet potato pie and seeing cotton fields for the first time. I also remember feeling eerily connected to my ancestors while there. Visiting the state again this year gave me the same eerie feeling.
I had a chance to see cotton fields again on this trip. It was the same emotional feeling that I’d experienced back in 2005 when I touched the cotton, feeling the soft fibers against this prickly plant and wondering what it was like for slaves to pick the fibrous substance day in and day out. I closed my eyes while standing in the field and saw vivid imagery of my beautifully brown-shaded ancestors surrounded by this curious, cloud-white substance, a stark juxtaposition of browns and whites that seemed disturbingly appropriate.
Family is something that is so easy to take for granted. I’m close to my immediate family and my Jamaican side of the family, but I really want to do a better job of keeping in touch with my mom’s side. I have cousins right here in the Bay area who I hardly see (it doesn’t help that all of us are horrible at reaching out to each other as we get sucked into our own little bubbles). I plan to reach out to them more. This family reunion went from being a task on my to-do list to an unforgettable experience that I’m looking forward to experiencing again in two years at the next reunion. I’m excited to learn more about my amazing family. :)