Hundreds go forth to Martinsburg celebration

July 05, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Kimball Tyler was in charge of the grill for his family's picnic at War Memorial Park in Martinsburg on Sunday.

With a layer of foil over the coals, Tyler, of Silver Spring, Md., kept the burgers and dogs moving.

Sunday was the second day of his family's annual reunion, and although most of the folks already had gone home, there still were about two dozen mouths to feed.

"It's kinda like 'Big Mama's House,'" Tyler said, referring to a film portrayal of an extended family.

Tyler, 39, was part of the Lee-Mason-Phoenix reunion. The family had one of the covered picnic areas at the park, but they were not alone in their endeavor.


Hundreds of people turned out at the park Sunday for similar activities. Visitors brought tents, tarps, chairs, portable grills, watermelons and lots and lots of food as part of their July Fourth celebrations.

But Tyler's family reunion wasn't just about the food.

Ramone Johnson, 44, Tyler's cousin, helps to organize the annual event.

Johnson, 44, said there were more like 300 people participating in the reunion on Saturday. Cousins, brothers, uncles and other branches of the family tree flocked to Martinsburg from Ohio, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland.

Johnson said her family is so big now that it takes a committee of a dozen people to arrange for the reunion.

Although War Memorial Park had an inflatable trampoline ride, face painting and plenty of other activities Sunday, Johnson's family rented its own inflatable trampoline ride and a clown.

She said the reunion was somewhat of an heirloom passed down from generation to generation. Her grandmother Dora used to hold it at her house. After she died, her son Harry took it over. When the reunion outgrew his home, it went to the committee, Johnson said.

As Johnson explained the background of the family's July Fourth history, a young family member needed guidance on how to divvy up the food.

"Meat and the hot stuff on that side. The cold stuff over here," Johnson said. "We're big eaters."

In addition to the food on the grill, there were sausages, chicken, baked beans, and potato and macaroni salad.

Johnson and Tyler said putting on the reunion takes some effort. There are telephone calls, both land line and cell phone, e-mails and text-messaging. Then there's tracking down family members who've lost touch, Johnson said. She's turned to court records and other historical information for that.

Laughter and conversation carried from the family picnic as the familiar smells of home cooking wafted through the air.

Tyler said that's what coming to Martinsburg was all about.

"Good eatin', being around family. That's about it. Nothing like being around family on the Fourth, watching the kids grow up," Tyler said. "You get a good feeling out of it."

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