The year is more than half spent, time to return to my Appalachian birthplace. This visit, a triple portion awaits.

Of all wonderful, loving gifts, my middle daughter, Kelly, offered to fly in from California to join me. As it’s a challenge to navigate Ohio’s knotted highways around Columbus, I’m thankful for Kelly’s companionship as my co-pilot.

We’re looking forward to our McCoy family reunion Saturday, July 22, in Lexington, Kentucky, where many cousins reside. Over a decade has passed since our clan last gathered. And longer than that since Kelly’s hugged her Great-Uncle Herm’s neck.

Thankfully, our last standing patriarch requested this reunion. Who could deny our dear 92-year-old uncle his heart’s desire?

Uprooted from my O’Brien and McCoy relatives as a young child, family reunions remain the highlight of my life. Oh, the fried chicken, potato salad, and pots of green beans! The jugs of iced sweet tea. The chase and play with cousins and Old Shep, the collie we left behind when we moved to Detroit in 1954.

And always, the bounce on Uncle Herm’s knee.

I’ve long outgrown his knee, yet never the anticipation of the twinkle in his eyes when we meet. All along the drive from Detroit to Peter Creek during my childhood, I knew Uncle Herm waited in the McCoy Bottom. When Dad stopped the car, I opened the door and ran into Uncle Herm’s arms. He threw me up into the air until one summer I was too big.

Sometime during our family’s vacation, Uncle Herm and his wife Aunt Dean would repeat the story about the time they took care of me. I was shy of three years when Mom accompanied Dad to Cincinnati for barber school for several months. Uncle Herm and Aunt Dean, newlyweds who lived in the McCoy Bottom within hollering distance, gladly took me in.

Although my mind cannot remember those blissful months, my soul knows the scent of Aunt Dean’s immaculate house. Her biscuits baking in the oven. The click of her tongue when content. And Uncle Herm’s stocking feet crossed at the ankles on the coffee table while sitting on the their sofa.

However, I know not to expect our matriarchs’ fried chicken, potato salad, and pot of green beans for this reunion. Considering this, perhaps Uncle Herm would like Mom’s potato salad. My daughter and I sure would. The dish would keep in an iced cooler for our drive Friday and stay overnight.

Dear Reader, Kelly’s anticipating the reunion with her McCoy and Hatfield cousins-some second cousins, several college bound, and a baby we’ve not yet met.

Oh yes, the clans can and do get along. Many own businesses that serve residents and tourists. And on Mate Street in Matewan, West Virginia, where I’m headed with a carload of new books, stands the United Mine Workers Union Hall.

God willing, I’ll introduce Matewan Garden Club to the former coal town where I was born-a community including Hatfields and McCoys who won’t quit.

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