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Ode to Bessie Celebrating Our 60th Easter

By Joe Starkey



It seems like we’ve been going to “Aunt Bessie’s house for Easter all of my life. Not that it was not great to go there and eat outdoors and play with what seemed like hundreds of cousins and hike the hills and sometimes get thrown in the horse tank and find so many Easter eggs that you had to give some away when you got back home but when I was younger, sometimes I just wished to try something else. But after I missed several years while {{more}} having a career in the Army I ended up planning my leaves to attend whenever I could. Talking to some of my great aunts this year, it turns out to be true that I’ve been going all my life. This story starts in 1946, five months before my birth, when my family decided to celebrate the safe return from World War II of my father, John Starkey; my uncle Bob Starkey, great uncles Homer and Johnie Joe and my great aunt Bessie’s brother Curtis. Bessie and husband, Charlie Starkey had purchased land near Flomot, TX in 1944 and it was decided to hold the gathering there. For us, Easter starts on Good Friday when people start arriving and a rattlesnake hunt is held to clear the egg hunting ground of snakes. Saturday is a time to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. This year was the 80th birthday of Jackie Starkey who is the third of Bessie’s twelve children and the 90th Birthday of Jameta McLain, Bessie’s younger sister. Shortly after celebrating that first Easter, Charlie and Bessie moved to the four room house on the ranch. The house had a kitchen, their bedroom which is now a living room and one bedroom for the eight girls and one bedroom for the four boys. Yes – that’s a family of fourteen in a four room house of about 600 square feet. Charlie passed away in 1989 but we kept celebrating Easter and family occasions there. When Bessie joined him in May of 2004, attending her funeral were 11 of 12 her children , 33 grandchildren, 70 great grandchildren and 39 great great grandchildren and over 150 more Starkey kin. The family decided to keep the celebration going and it is still called “going to Aunt Bessie’s”. Family members have built a meeting place near the home and improve it every summer during their work week. This year, Easter day saw 125 kin enjoying food hot from the big outdoor grill and smoker plus treats brought from homes in Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and all over Texas. Several families made the Saturday trip for Jackie’s birthday but could not stay over for Easter. Every Easter Friday evening and Saturday morning for 60 years have seen several family members searching the gap in the hills behind the house for rattlesnakes. The fun of the snake hunt is slightly overshadowed by the concern that no snakes are still there on Easter afternoon when all of the children and the adults still able to climb the hill go search for Easter eggs. There are the traditional colored hen’s eggs, chocolate, of course, and 5 or 6 special eggs that contain money. Easter starts at 6 AM with a big breakfast of scrambled eggs and pancakes which ends at 8 AM so the cooks can start the Easter feast. Then the warning sign “men cooking” takes over as campfire beans, ribs, brisket, sausage, bacon, cabbage, deep fried potatoes, cowboy coffee and most of the other things that can be cooked over an open flame or in a smoker start coming in the door. The ladies of the family start laying out the side dishes brought from home and the desserts – swatting young hands eager to sample the brownies, deviled eggs and other goodies. We always take plenty of time to visit and catch up on each other and admire new grandkids or the accomplishments of the teenagers. Sometimes we have a visiting preacher come out to the ranch but most often family members prepare a short service around 10 each Easter Sunday. At one time, we did this as a sunrise service up on the hill but as the families spread further apart and the Saturday visiting went later into the night, the service was changed to mid morning. Every meal from Friday to Sunday is started with prayer. This three day family gathering is alcohol free on the ranch and you seldom see anyone smoking. Shortly after lunch, the grandkids take off up the hill to hide the Easter eggs and tromp the bush one more time for unwanted guests. About 30 minutes later the younger children and parents and those that can still climb the hill start off to climb the hill. Starting from near the top of one hill, the children go off in waves by age to seek the eggs. The money eggs started from one special egg that Bessie would prepare with money inside but now there are as many money eggs as there are donations. The money is no longer inside the eggs but there is a slip of paper the lucky child takes back to the meeting house to redeem. When all of the eggs are located, the family makes its way back down the hill. Many of the folks take off shortly after the hunt saying goodbyes with plans for the next family meeting. Some like Rick Starkey and daughter Johna face an all night drive back home so he can go to work and she can catch a plane to Camp Pendleton, CA to report to her first duty station in the Marines. Others will stay for a few more days to finish the cleanup and do any maintenance needed on the family home and meeting place. The world has changed for us in that I grew up in the same town with most of my first cousins playing on the same sports teams and going to the same schools and saw all of the other first cousins and second and third and so removed that we just called each other “kissing cousin” cousins each year at family reunion and Christmas but my daughter’s first cousins have never lived closer than 75 miles and are located in 2 states and may only get to visit at Christmas. Neither of them made it to Easter this year. It’s always good for children to get to know their relatives and listen to the cousins of their parents tell stories of how it was when they were growing up and why father or mother may feel so strongly about you doing certain activities . If you are interested in more of the story of a Texas family from the Oklahoma Sooner Days to the Space Age, my father has written “Starkey Family Genealogy with History from Oxcart to Space Shuttle” and copies are in the libraries at Sweetwater and Abilene. So my Ode to Bessie may not rhyme and definitely is not set to music but comes from the heart to a lady who welcomed us into her 4 room home. Charlie was one of seven brothers and had 12 children. My grandfather had seven and the other brothers had large families also. Even though we have spread across the United States, it is always great to get back together and remember when.

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