Tonight my wife and I attended the Whatley reunion in Reynolds. Although I was voted as an honorary member of the Whatley family at the reunion several years ago, I would have attended anyway. If you have heard me speak or read my book or read this blog on a regular basis, you know about the Whatley’s. (At the top of this page is a search box for this blog. Search “Whatley” and you will find plenty to read).
The Whatley’s were a huge part of my life when I was growing up and they continue to be a huge part of my life today. The close friendships between my family and the Whatley’s go back several generations. Tonight I was asked to say a few words to the group after dinner. From someone who has become what some would call a "professional" speaker, this gig was different. Tonight I was speaking to a group of folks who happen to be some of my closest friends on earth.
Among the Whatley descendants who were present was a special group who are not getting any younger. They are the five sons of Clifford and Mary Monk Whatley: Ed, Cliff, Billy, Julian and Leonard. I’m not sure how many more times I will have the opportunity to be in a room where all five of these incredible brothers are together. But the thought did pass my mind. Hopefully many more... but you never know.
I took the opportunity tonight to pass the old corn cob Pipe and it was an emotional moment. Gary Oliver, pictured above with me, was the recipient of the pipe that has been passed between three generations of Whatley’s and Goddard’s for the past 75 years. Gary, a native of Oxford NY, is the son in law of Dr. Ed Whatley. He is a southerner by choice and a Whatley by marriage…and a very close friend. My dad absolutely loved Gary Oliver and he would be thrilled to know that Gary is the holder of the Pipe until he sees fit to pass it on to someone else on a special occasion. Gary and his wife Nancy joined the grandparent club a few weeks ago. That is an event that is worthy of a pipe passing. Not only is it worth of a pipe passing because they are new grandparents but Anna Rose was named after Dr. Whatley’s wife, Rosemary, who passed away a little less than a year ago. And that even makes the pipe passing even more appropriate.
Below is part of the letter I read tonight and gave to Gary which will join all the other letters written over the years as the pipe was passed:
“So many of us have moved away from the modest place that was too small to hold our dreams, too quiet for the noise we were born to make. Yet for all the success we may have found in the big city (or sprawling suburb), we are discovering there is a cost.
We have strayed too far from the humble things that endure, and given short shrift to the rituals and traditions that give meaning and continuity to our lives. These things you cannot buy at the Pottery Barn, or manufacture with the advice of Martha Stewart. They are virtues forged in the hearth of a loving home, and which must be renewed from father to son, from mother to daughter, from age to age. Whether we have moved down the street or across the country from our birthplace, we have strayed too far from home. And it’s time to turn back.
I’m not talking about moving back to our hometowns…. What I’m talking about is re-creating, wherever we may now live, the best parts of home, either the home we had growing up, or the home we wished for.” (from Homesick by Sela Ward).
Tonight not only did we carry on a tradition that was started 75 years ago by lifelong friends, but in a way we were able to re-create events of a time when the simple things of life such as family and friends mattered most.
And the older I get the more convinced I become that nothing matters more than family and friends.