"Buddy" Hall (foreground left) and his wife Frankie (foreground right), a Marks family member, enjoy the 135th Marks Family Reunion lunch. On the picnic table is the 2010 Marks-Barnett Families and Their Kin history book. The book combines two previous versions with the latest update written and assembled by former Arkansas Razorback quarterback standout George Walker, a family member. The book traces the family back to 1834 when the Marks family first arrived in Arkansas from Alabama. From the looks of things, this branch of the family is infusing new blood to the tradition. Buddy and Frankie hail from nearby New Edinburg, Arkansas.
Sunday, June 5, 2011
In 1877, a group of southeast Arkansas Confederate veterans decided to have a reunion at the home of "Little Jack" Marks in Chambersville, Arkansas (Calhoun County). It was a family affair with wives doing the cooking. No doubt, fried chicken led the menu.
The veterans, in uniform, assembled and after some conversation, they discovered that most of them were kin to each other via the Marks family. As the reunion was winding down, the participants all observed that, having had such a great time, they wanted to do it again the next year. And every year thereafter.
Fast forward to June 5, 2011, at Marks Cemetery in Cleveland County, Arkansas, and you'll find the descendants of the august group of Confederate veterans gathered for the 135th reunion. There may be family reunions that have been going on longer, but I haven't found or heard of one. (We first covered this event in 2009. See our original comments here and here.)
Always held on the first Sunday in June, the reunions follow an unwritten agenda that goes back a long way. People with "possum blond" hair confirm it. On the preceding Saturday, around 8 p.m. or so, people begin to show up at the cemetery bearing musical instruments and a couple of recently butchered pigs. A group of men, well practiced in their craft, build a hickory fueled fire in the barbeque pit. When the fire is just right, the pigs go on a grill over the pit. In the meantime, the non-cooks crank up the music. This goes on until folks are ready to stop and retire for the evening.
The Pig Pit: When the barbequed-pigs-in-a-pit tradition started, the cooking was done the old fashioned way in a dug pit. But after the reunion came to Marks Cemetery, the family made improvements, one of which is this concrete-floored pavilion, complete with a perfectly proportioned pig pit.
The next morning, normally around 6 a.m., the cooks return to the scene to make certain the pigs are progressing properly. Around 11 or so, the cooks remove the pigs and reduce them to serving-size pieces for their kin.
At just the right moment, led by Jeff Childress, the guy who watches the pigs, the cooks remove the done-to-perfection porkers. These folks know their job. There will not be enough pork left over for doggie bags.
While all of this is going on, the Marks-Barnett Family "board" meets to discuss business. Once that's done, the matriarch and spiritual leader of the clan, Pat Rhine Brown of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, calls a family meeting. The responsible leaders of the organization give their reports, pass on the latest family news, and dismiss for lunch.
For lunch, in addition to the pigs, families bring "covered" dishes, the contents of which represent the nadir of southern home-cooked cuisine. It is impossible to leave hungry. Or for that matter, unhappy. These people enjoy each other's company and leave with a smile, already looking forward to the next reunion. As an invited interloper, I am pleased to participate.
N O T E S:
Most of the time, there is more to the Photo of the Week story than can be told in an essay. And most of the time there are more pictures to be seen. Presuming that some folk will enjoy being privy to this trove of information, I have created a blog, “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind,” where I am showing and telling “the rest of the story." There are also some blatantly commercial mentions of some of the things we do to earn our beans and taters. Click on the Weekly Grist logo and go to the blog. — J. D.