Cleveland County, North Carolina doesn’t get a lot of airplay nationwide. You might hear about it in August when they play the 95th American Legion World Series there at its permanent home, Veterans Field at Keeter Stadium, a gorgeous park and setting.
If you’re a member of the medical community, you can even get in free this year, the American Legion’s tribute to you for all your work during the pandemic.
So there’s that. (Oh … Shelby, the county seat and roughly 21,000 strong, also has a Bojangles. The biscuits are killer.)
But other than the mid-August baseball traffic, Cleveland County and Shelby keep a relatively low profile, just being cool and calm and living the good life at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the state’s southern line, there in the western Piedmont.
For a closer perspective, it’s 43 miles west, give or take a soybean field or two, from Charlotte. Just hop on Interstate 85 toward Spartanburg, take a right on Hwy. 74 at Kings Mountain, and pretty soon it’s paydirt.
To me it’s become a kind of home away from home because, for various reasons, it’s been the site of most of our family reunions, the most recent of which was last weekend and which also didn’t get much national attention because people sitting around telling stories no one else would care about and eating fried chicken from Food Lion and watching kids play isn’t big news — unless you’re an Allen or unless, in a weak moment, you married into such a magnificent mess.
I love this little town.
It started in 1990, one year after grandmamma died, so this was the 33rd annual gathering, although we skipped two years ago when the world shut down because of the you-know-what, which we are all literally paying for now. No telling how many chickens have died, how many eggs have been deviled, how many potatoes have been peeled over the past three-plus decades, each a martyr to the Allen Family Reunion cause.
Sometimes I take a baseball. I don’t ask anyone to sign a baseball unless it’s a Very Special Deal, (a “VSD”). Unless it’s been a Little Leaguer, I’ve never asked a ballplayer to sign a baseball. But I’ve asked my Aunt Virginia and my Aunt Sarah. And Amy, who drew a little heart by hers this year. (Extra points for cousin Amy.) And Dylan, who added a smiley face. And Terry and Matt and Austin and Robin and Judy No. 1, not to be confused with the irreplaceable Judy No. 2 or other Judys that fell by the matrimonial wayside. (I appreciate that the Judys always sign with a Roman numeral I or II. Keepers, that pair.)
I look at the baseball anytime I want during the year, see the names, and remember. It’s a selfish tradition, I know …
We’ve had the reunion, depending on where people were living and who was hosting — been some moving around in 30 years — at New Smyrna Beach, Fl. (looked down the beach and saw the space shuttle launch and felt the sonic boom a minute or so later, a reunion highlight, because nothing much happens at our reunions); at Bowdon, Ga.; at North Myrtle Beach/Cherry Grove, S.C.; even in Swartz, La., which got no points for Things To Do but which did retire the trophy for Hottest Reunion Ever. Seems liked it cooled off to 102 one day.
It’s at Cherry Grove next year around July 10 if you want to come. Love to have you. You might enjoy it since all the old stories we’ve heard time and again will be new to you. And since it’s your first time, we won’t make you peel eggs.
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