Last weekend I attended a Snow Family Reunion, the first one we’ve ever had that wasn’t a funeral.
We’ve experienced an unusual amount of tragic and premature deaths in this family — a young cousin hit by a car and killed; another killed in a freakish car accident; an uncle who died from cancer at an early age; and an aunt taken by lupus.
My dad died at 57 years old from a massive heart attack. His father, my grandfather, died at about the same age of heart disease.
And there are more
We know death.
We know it all too well in the Snow family.
Maybe that’s why I’ve always been fascinated with my Snow family heritage.
My great Grandmother Harris became the focus of my family history research many years ago, and I have created an exhaustive time line of her life from the time she was born until her death.
The greatest love of her life was her family. She, like me, loved family history, and thankfully, she left a trail of crumbs that helped me create a detailed sketch of her life.
A friend of mine, who also loves genealogy and family history, told me she studied her ancestors’ lives so thoroughly that she believes she knows them as well as any living member of her family.
I have always wanted to know my Grandmother Harris that well.
After accumulating volumes of records, and family stories, I decided that the only way I could share them, and truly honor my Grandmother would be to organize a reunion.
It’s been in the works for months. Thanks to the wonder of Facebook groups, we planned a simple reunion at a pavilion in one of our favorite campgrounds in Utah. I flew out from Washington, and others came from California and Nevada. The majority of the family still lives in Utah.
My goal was to honor my Grandmother Harris and to share stories about her life. My Aunt Marilyn shared some memories of growing up with her, and my cousin Janet shared stories she’d learned from her mother. Then I wrapped it up by filling in the blanks.
As I talked about her life, I felt like I was talking about someone I knew, just like my friend described.
One of the stories I shared was that Grandmother believed she saw angels on more than one occasion. She told a story about being out in the desert of Texas all alone while her husband was away at work. She saw a menacing man approach her, and she prayed silently for help. As the stranger drew closer, he said,”Does that dog bite?”
She looked down by her side and saw a dog she’d never seen before in her life.
Wisely, she said, “Yes, he’s a very fierce dog, and he doesn’t like strangers.”
She suggested he leave before the dog attacked him.
Then the dog growled, and the man turned around and left.
As soon as he was out of sight, she looked down, and the dog was gone. She had never seen the dog before, and she never saw it again.
While I told this story and others, a cousin took some photographs of me. When I finished with my presentation, she showed me the pictures on the screen of her digital camera.
The first photo looked blurry all around me, so she took another one. It too looked like I was standing in a cloud.
Later, without seeing the photos, my sister told me that the entire time I was speaking, she kept catching a glimpse of someone in the periphery of her eye. Every time she turned to see who was there, she saw no one.
My brother told me that as I talked he knew I wasn’t alone. He said, “I’m not a religious person but I know something Godly when I feel it, and there were angels here today with you as you told those stories.”
A nephew told me that as soon as I started speaking, he wondered whether our ancestors were there.
I have never seen an angel but I believe in them.
I’ve never had a dog show up to protect me either, but I believe it happened to my Grandmother while she was alone in that Texas desert.
Why wouldn’t our family members show up when we gather to honor them? And why wouldn’t their light surround me and make my image look blurry in a photograph? I can guarantee that if my descendants have a reunion, I’ll be there. There’s no way I’d let them have a party without me.
(I should also warn them that if they only get together for funerals, I’ll come back as the stranger in the desert, and they’ll wish they had a dog there to protect them!)
I’ve looked at the pictures several times in the last few days and wondered whether there was a smudge on the camera lens.
I don’t know whether angels appear as light or blurry images around us but I’ve decided to stop wondering and just embrace the fact that something magical or sacred happened at that family reunion.
Maybe the angels made it happen or maybe we did.
Either way it gave us a little taste of heaven, and for a mostly nonreligious family, that’s a miracle in itself.