Family . . .

They say you can’t go home again, but while I was back in Missisippi, the other radical Watkins cousin Thomas Naylor hosted a cousins’ dinner for a few of the surviving descendants of the first Thomas Watkins.

This was held, with some irony, at a southern mansion called Fairview, once owned by the segregationist head of the White Citizens Council. We ate wonderful food, drank too much wine, and told stories.

My cousin Julia shared a wonderful one. The first Thomas Watkins, who enlisted as a private in the Confederate Army at 13, came home from that war, married (the first Julia) and fathered eight children.

He died young. His widow moved to the capitol, Jackson, and opened a boarding house. She told the oldest child: I will send you to college and you will help the next in line. Each child did this and all eight became lawyers, doctors and ministers. When our own children or grandchildren complain about this or that, point out this example.

Another cousin, Vaughn McRae, said he had always thought there was a thing called “The Watkins Brain,” which resided somewhere in a bell jar, probably at the local Methodist college.  Since only Watkins were present, no one disagreed that there was indeed such a glorious thing, and that we, by virtue of kinship, must possess a piece of it.

4 responses »

  1. Better to have a brain in a bell jar than a brain in a frying pan. Remember that commercial? “Here is your brain on drugs?” and there was an egg frying in a pan. I could sometimes smell my brain cells smoking after seeing that commercial. Didn’t stop me from continuing my behavior, but at least my smeller still worked.

    Great that you got together with the cousins. I have about 90 total. First second and third cousins spread all over and of every color and religion. We would need to rent a hall to all get together. Thank goodness for facebook.

  2. I would LOVE to have a bit of the Watkins brain, at least the Norma Watkins brain, installed in the writing section of my prefrontal cortex. I love your sharing of bookstore experiences.

  3. Hi Norma,

    I enjoyed reading through your blogs and getting a flavor of your experiences on your reading tour. And then I came to the final photo at the bottom of the blog list and–goosebumps. There you and your sister stand with your beloved servant and I stared at her hands. She is not holding your hands. Her hands are hanging limply at her side. You, however, are hanging on with trust and love. I wonder how many little white kids grow up thinking they are loved in a situation where the servant is deeply conflicted and cannot hide it, but the kids love anyway. I wonder how white kids, starting out that way, learn and experience love as they grow older.


    • I agree, Erica, We all grew up thinking the black help not only loved us, but had no other lives outside serving ours. How perceptive of you to notice those hands. We awoke to the complexity of the relationship slowly and, for a lot of southerners, it was a huge shock that their servants weren’t happy with “our way of life,” that beloved “Mammy” in the kitchen might want a better job, more money, a nicer place to live, and equality walking down a public street.


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