This is an opinion column.
It never fails when I tell someone my last name, they ask if I am kin to this or that Holsonback…you know, the one in Albertville or perhaps the one that preaches. Even though there are several families in our area who share the surname, it is extremely rare in the United States with only 621 people recorded listing it on the last census. I came into the name by marriage a few years ago and still have trouble writing it when signing a check.
I was born Sandra Jean Williams. My sister, Brenda, wanted to name me Sandy Marie, but Momma had a best friend with a daughter named Sandra Jean and my mother always won her battles in our family. Thank goodness, my sister’s preferred first name for me stuck as a nickname instead of the formal one on my birth certificate. Apparently Sandy and Sandra were fairly popular names in the mid 1960s…every lady I have ever met who shared the name with me was around my own age. I graduated high school with two actually, even though they spelled theirs differently.
My daddy was a Williams and the last census states that there are over 1.6 million of them in the United States. Momma was a Morrow and there are 56,000 plus of them spread from sea to shining sea. Both of their own clans were fairly large, themselves. Mom and Dad each had eleven brothers and sisters and their parents had double digit siblings as well.
The Williams family I was born into were mostly tall, thin people. They were quiet, soft spoken and reserved and didn’t cause much trouble to anyone. Momma’s kinfolk was just the opposite. They were loud and mischievous and you could tell from looking at them, they loved to gather around the eating table. Most of them played music and they loved to laugh and joke around. If you know me, it’s easy to figure out which side of the family I took after.
Coming from such large families, I have hundreds and hundreds of cousins. Some of them I only know by name and have actually never met. Many of them, however, I saw on a regular basis growing up while visiting aunts and uncles…having fish fries and eating homemade ice cream; a few others I knew from Saturday night visits around the Rook table.
There were lots of family members I only saw at the occasional family reunion and some were seen just once a year in May on “Decoration Day” honoring our lost loved ones at Liberty Cemetery in Painter or in Arab at Rice Cemetery.
Our most common meeting place, however, was at the recurrent funerals which were inevitable with large families. When I was a little girl, I knew my way around every inch of Adams Brown Funeral Home. It was a familiar place for me and I was a little too comfortable there, actually.
Once, when one of my Morrow uncles passed away, a cousin and I decided to explore the room they stored the caskets in. We climbed up inside of one, laid down with closed eyes and hands folded across our chests…we were just five years old and wanted to see what it felt like. The funeral director who found us didn’t think it was very funny, however, and took us straight to my parents. Daddy shook his head and walked away with tight lips. Momma gave us both a good whipping with a hickory switch she took from one the front bushes. That was back in the days when you could publicly discipline your own kids as well as anyone else’s who misbehaved.
Over the years, my Williams and Morrow families lost the mothers and fathers who made sure all us kids knew who each other were. I lost contact with most of my cousins and several of the older ones have since passed away themselves.
Today, Facebook provides a photo album for me to view a few of my kinfolk’s children and grandchildren who are scattered from California to Michigan to Florida. It sure warms my heart to see the familiar faces of my youth behind their laughing eyes and mischievous smiles. I hope they all enjoy the photographs I post of my own children and grandsons, as well, and I hope they smile as they remember this blue-eyed girl who was Dalton and Ilene’s youngest child and seeing the beautiful family she now has.
Sandy Holsonback is a local contributing columnist for The Reporter.