camp granky guys I have just returned from a family gathering on my mother's side. My Aunt Nelda and Uncle James hosted it on their gorgeous, sprawling west Texas ranch. They called it Camp Granky, in honor of my maternal grandmother (whom I named as a toddler when I could not manage calling her "Granny," which my dad wanted to get me to call her, just to aggravate her, because she said she was much too young and pretty to be a granny - and she was right). What a time we had!

All of us cousins are grown now. We have our own families. We are scattered across three states. We seldom see each other. So, this gathering was like rolling back the clock to a simpler time.

Many of the most vivid memories of my childhood revolve around a white framed parsonage in Mineral Wells, Texas. The humble home of Big Granddad and Granky was always abuzz around the holidays. Most every Thanksgiving and Christmas, their four daughters and their families would converge on the little house (though it seemed, as everything in childhood does, much bigger to me then) and it would come alive with their laughter and chatter. The only son, like me, was still a kid.

Aunt Nelda: 42 Master

We were a family. Tight-knit. Kindred spirits. And loud. Some families are quiet, reserved and sophisticated. They sip their coffee or wine and speak in hushed tones about the state of this or that. Not us. If you were quiet at the Henager family gathering, you went unheard. We were too busy laughing at the silliness of Granky or Aunt Nelda...or a corny joke told by one of the dads.

The adults were busy shuffling the dominoes and trash-talking their way through another game of 42. The kids were trying to remain unpranked by Uncle Troy (that son who was still a kid, but the oldest one). Then there were the endless ping pong tournaments between the male cousins and our uncles. There were backyard football games, where a flash of brilliance could forever establish you as a Henager family Hall of Famer.

Granky and the women were baking things that filled the air with their sweet aromas and tasted like pure slices of heaven. Big Granddad could often be found peeling pecans with his pocket knife...the same one he sometimes used to trim his fingernails.

No Fair! We never had a pool.

My wife was sort of the unofficial photographer, chronicling the revelings of Camp Granky '09. Last night, I sifted through those pictures, savoring every precious moment. Admittedly, it wasn't the same as back when. Big Granddad and Granky are gone. So is Dad. A couple of the uncles are no longer in the picture. One of the sisters and the brother couldn't make it. Some old faces were missing and plenty of new faces were there. Little rugrats, the offspring of the cousins and their mates, were everywhere. Watching them laugh and play and fuss and cry reminded me of us back then.

Time takes its toll. Everything, it seems, changes. People change. But love...love never dies. The strong family bond remains. The faith of our fathers and mothers remains the strong cord that binds...every bit as much as sharing a gene pool.

And the circle remains.