I spent the better part of a recent Sunday afternoon sifting through the big box of old family photos that was handed to me by a sibling after our dad died in 2009. 

I was looking for pictures of another sibling to mark a big birthday.

As I pored over the images – more than a century’s worth – I couldn’t help but marvel at how many photos there were of family groups, mostly having fun. My mother’s side, the Poe family, was well represented.

Mom was the baby of that family of nine children. I remember back to my young adult years when the siblings and their spouses held what must have been semi-annual gatherings at one another’s homes. I think this started once they all retired. 

My parents loved these outings. They usually involved silly gifts, sometimes costumes, and always lots of food and great fun. In virtually every photo, everyone is smiling, if not laughing. 

These gatherings were in addition to the annual family reunions at the lake – usually Lake Murray, outside of Columbia. Everyone showed up for these – all the siblings, all their children, then grandchildren, then great-grands. Everyone brought their special dishes to share, and we all ate way too much.

These outings were the highlight of my summer as a teen. I loved hanging out with my cousins, swimming in the lake, and I even enjoyed conversations with my aunts and uncles – most of whom were funny in their own right. There was always lots of laughter, stories and a game of horseshoes. 

There were also occasional reunions in Southern Pines, North Carolina, where the “old aunts” lived – Aunt Annie, Aunt Mollie, Aunt Ludie, Aunt Rose. I remember in my early years traveling to visit these ancient women! I found photos of them as well.

Of course, the family also gathered when someone died. I was surprised to find many photos of gravesites and flower arrangements.

But the Cope side of my family was not to be outdone! They win the prize for the oldest of the photos in the box. There was a wonderful portrait of my Granddaddy J.A. Cope at age 17 – in 1906. When that photo was taken, he couldn’t have known that he would be at the foundation of such a prolific family; he and Grandmama Pearl were parents to seven children. 

This side of my history included numerous family reunions as well – mostly in and around Orangeburg, where my grandmother was born. I recall the annual reunion was usually held on Sundays – after we had already been to church! Lunch was late on those days, as Orangeburg was about 45 miles away.

There were a number of pictures from these reunions as well. I recognized Aunt Belle and Aunt Flossie, Grandmama’s sisters, but don’t recall whether either of them had children. Neither of them smiled much – maybe they didn’t experience the joy of kids.

Of course, there were photos of my siblings and me – as children, then teens, then adults. These photos remind me how close our family has always been. We genuinely like each other – it is apparent in our smiles.

My photographic trip down memory lane triggered lots of emotions as I sat cross-legged on the sofa. With each new discovery, I felt happy, then sad, then nostalgic and giddy, then wistful. 

But overall, I felt joy and I felt loved – because as odd or somber or goofy or beautiful some of these people were and are, they are part of my history. We share DNA, we share these memories. We share the love that is evident in that old box of photos.