Food, fun and family Reunion: The Browns of East Baltimore invited 400 of their closest relatives to a grand afternoon celebration at Druid Hill Park.

July 05, 1996|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

For the Brown family of East Baltimore, the Fourth of July reunion -- a giant cookout in Druid Hill Park -- was a jubilant affair.

"I been dancing, helping, enjoying myself, meeting other parts of my family I never met before," said Hershey Lawrence, 18, one of about 400 people who attended the reunion that was fragrant with the smell of grilling meats and rich with signs of family attachments.

After beginning preparations in January, the family raised $2,000, corralled the 400 attendees from around the country and rented an 18-foot truck to transport boxes of watermelon, games of Twister and tons and tons of food.

Most of the guests wore white T-shirts that said, "Where there is unity, there is strength. Love conquers all," with a family tree stenciled in red on the backs.

Holding a wedge of watermelon, Yannena Brown, 13, of East Baltimore said she was having a terrific time, "just walking around, looking at everyone, smiling at everyone, eating and dancing."

She and the other guests had Yannena's mother, Fannie Brown, 47, to thank. She took it upon herself to organize the event.

She has seven living sisters and one brother, all of whom made it to the event. And they brought their offspring. "There's grands, great-grands and great-great-grands," Fannie Brown said.

Brown rented a gazebo in the park for $75 and a school bus so the dozens of children could catch a ride to the Baltimore Zoo. She asked each branch of the family -- from New York, New Jersey and Cleveland -- to chip in about $70.

And clearly, it was well worth it.

While several of the children bopped each other over the head with soft, 2-foot inflatable "sticks," more danced to music from a portable stereo.

Some figured out how to play Twister, a game for several people who put their hands and feet on colored circles on a mat, sometimes in awkward contortion, while trying not to get twisted up with their playmates.

Others had snakes and smiley faces painted on their cheeks with a water-based paint by a family member staying cool in the shade of a tree.

Activities also included swimming and a game of volleyball on a level spot in the park, where other picnic tables were being used for cookouts by other groups. But those gatherings paled in comparison with the Brown bash.

While children's voices rang out with laughter and amusement, adults sat on lawn chairs and blankets under the blue sky, talking and reminiscing, smoking cigarettes, drinking beer and serving food.

The menu was at once elaborate and familiar: three giant boxes of watermelons, plates of deviled eggs, trays of marinating meat, pig's feet, boxes of crabs, cases of soda, corn on the cob, and several barbecues at once -- with each family adding its own twist to chicken, turkey, spare ribs, hamburgers and hot dogs.

"We come from down South and we always share the things that we have -- that's what we call a family reunion," said Robert Lee, 63, encouraging a photographer and reporter to dig in.

He traveled from his home in Brooklyn, N.Y., to the event, which is held in a different location each year.

No one was being shy about eating, either. Two-year-old Shamika Born ran in the grass with deviled egg smeared on her cheeks, and Phyllis McSpadden, 31, sat on a blanket, eating a spare rib with her fingers, obviously enjoying it, as her family and friends talked and laughed around her.

"The food is excellent," she said. "The hour I've been here, I've really pigged out."

Pub Date: 7/05/96

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