Wilson Robertson, 101, decided to spend this Father’s Day weekend in Annapolis with his baby sister, Virginia Hurks, who is only 95.
But his children wanted to spend time with their father, too. So the World War II veteran brought them along. Well, most of them anyway.
It was no small feat.
Robertson lives in Melville, Louisiana, a tiny burgh along the shores of the Atchafalaya River, a few miles from the Mississippi.
His children are scattered. Many are in the Houston area. So the younger folks rented a van in Houston and picked up Robertson for the more than 1,000-mile drive to Annapolis.
They arrived Friday afternoon. And the reunion was on.
By early evening, five generations had come together to celebrate.
Seven of his 10 children made the trip; two more were expected to arrive over the weekend. But that is not all of this family who gathered for the reunion weekend.
Besides Robertson and Hurks, there were representatives from the Chambers, Jacobs, Pointer, Walker, Harris, Collins and Merchant families — and probably more.
Most of them gathered at the home of Edwina Jacobs, off Bestgate Road. It is where Hurks has lived since her husband died in 1990. That year she made the move from Houston, where he had been a real estate and insurance man.
Tents were set up to provide shade. The grills were going. Robertson and Hurks sat in the shade of a tree, a semi-circle of family gathered around them.
“I would not miss this for the world,” said Dr. Crandall Chambers, who drove from Alabama. He grew up in Annapolis, the son of Carol Chambers who was one of the brothers who ran the Chambers and Sons Barbershop on West Street. Now he works in an obstetrics and gynecology practice with his son.
“My heart grows,” Hurks said, looking at all those around her. “And it is getting bigger with all my family here. I am so blessed.”
Many of those gathered live in the Annapolis area, but they also came from afar: Galveston and Houston, Texas; Arkansas; Alabama; Connecticut; and Philadelphia.
Robertson lives among his roots on the same farm property his grandfather, a former slave, held.
“He had 80 acres. And I am right there on that land,” Robertson said. His father was a sharecropper on the land, too.
Robertson was a boy when two of the worst floods in history hit Louisiana.
He was about 5 when the flood of 1922 hit, devastating the area in the lower Mississippi area and the Atchafalaya which branches off the mightier river about 40 miles north. Some 3,500 square miles of land were underwater, and 50,000 people were displaced.
He also remembers that was the year his sister was born.
That was just a warm-up for the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927; Some 500 people died, and 27,000 square miles of land were underwater.
“It took everything. There was water, water everywhere,” Robertson said.
Years later Robertson joined the Army in World War II. He served four years, mostly in the South Pacific. He was a rifleman in the 28th Infantry Regiment, an all African-American unit attached to several larger units during the war. He fought in Guadalcanal and Bougainville in the Solomon Islands, and Saipan and Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands. The unit was getting ready to move closer to Japan when the war ended, and he came home.
“I kissed the ground,” he recalled. “I was home.”
After the war, he worked hard. “I did some (of) everything,” he said with a chuckle. “I farmed. I logged. Then I became a carpenter.”
In 1982, he retired after working as a custodian for a local school system. But he didn’t rest. He worked cattle until 2011.
Hurks appreciated everyone’s efforts to be together this weekend.
“I am the baby in the family, born the year of the ’22 flood,” she said. Her mother had 13 children but only 10 survived to adulthood, she said.
She moved from Melville and Ville Platte, Louisiana, around 1947 when she got married.
“I guess you would call me a housewife,” she said. But she was plenty busy. Though Hurks never formally worked outside the home, she helped “people who needed it.”
Robertson is planning on living to 120 years old.
“Well, I am trying. Go slow, but never stop,” he said.
The guiding lesson of his life: “Treat people the way you want to be treated. No matter who they are or where they come from, treat them with respect.”
That lesson seemed well-rooted among all those brought together by a patriarch’s visit.
“We were taught good lessons and it is good to see we are holding to them,”Hurks said.