Ramona Farris now knows what it’s like to whisper into a monsoon.
Even using a microphone, she couldn’t easily be heard with the full throttle of hundreds of conversations roaring inside the Kansas Army National Guard armory in Kansas City, Kan.
Kids kept running. The grown-ups kept laughing and taking pictures and fanning themselves with paper plates in a room grown steamy from body heat.
It was time to take the family picture and at 1:45 p.m. on Saturday the reunion was running 15 minutes late. The dancers — and Mexican Elvis! — soon would be entertaining. And Farris needed everyone to pose.
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“So if everybody could just get in the middle of the floor,” Farris said, pleading with her 700-some relatives.
They heard that part. Eight generations of sons and daughters, spread around the hall according to the branches on the Hernandez family tree, began walking toward the middle of the hall, some quicker than others.
One cousin started spooning the creamy chicken mole on his plate into his mouth faster and faster, knowing he soon had to leave his table.
In the front row, elders settled onto metal folding chairs and leaned on walkers with little kids sitting on the floor at their feet. The oldest among them — “Tia Jessie” Nieto — is 93.
The front row is where Maria Hernandez — Mamaquita to her family — would have been. This was the fruit of her DNA gathered exactly 100 years after she came to the United States from Mexico, a twice-widowed mother with 11 children needing a new beginning.
They built that life on Kansas City’s West Side, where Mamaquita’s children raised Hernandez and Garcia and Aguirre and Mendez and Herrera families of their own within a few blocks of one another.
Mamaquita was 108 when she died in 1961, said her family members, some of whom visited her grave the morning of the reunion.
Farris — Mamaquita’s great-great-granddaughter — told the crowd to face “this way,” pointing up at her friend, photographer Todd Nugent from Platte City, who looked down from the balcony.
“Just stand there and face him,” Farris instructed her family. “It will be a huge photo.”
Huge in more than one sense. With firefighters, cops, teachers, restaurant owners, city hall workers, descendants of beloved local coach Tony Aguirre and one federal court judge tucked into this photo, “people are going to recognize our footprint across the West Side of Kansas City,” said Farris, director of business development for WellMatch.
Nugent leaned over the railing and waved his arm at her, indicating that he needed the crowd, which was still talking and quite loud, to spread out more that way.
“Move it this way,” Farris told her relatives, walking toward that end of the group. “So everybody here, can you scrunch in just a little bit further?
“Can you guys scooch in right here?
“Can you guys move over here just a little right here?”
She looked up at Nugent. “How does that look now? Is that better?”
From somewhere deep in the crowd, a little boy yelled above the din. “Mama and Daddy, where are you? Mama and Daddy!”
Down at the other end 17-year-old Nick Arzola of KCK was oblivious as he took selfies with his cousins, some of the 50 or so he and his brother, Robert, stay in touch with on Facebook.
The brothers didn’t know many of the people they were posing with.
“We’ve seen people we’ve never seen before,” said Robert, 24. “Knowing that they’re our family, it’s a blessing.”
Standing that close to loved ones and strangers alike made people hotter. Some of the women fanned their faces with their hands. The family of one pregnant cousin, due in just a few days, tried not to crowd too close around her.
Farris’ own face glistening as she walked back and forth in front of the group, and she reassured them. “Almost there, guys, almost there.”
That didn’t cut it with two babies who started bawling, prompting their parents to break out of the group for a few minutes.
Most people instinctively stood close to their immediate family members, but Tom “Bebo” Padilla noticed some overlapping of the branches. And that was fine with him “because we’re all family.”
Padilla remembered that in 1958, the family was small enough — only about 350 people — to pose on a small church hall stage. Mamaquita was in that photo.
“Todd, are you ready?” Farris asked the photographer.
“I need everyone past the white shirt to move over,” he yelled down from the balcony.
More shuffling, more scooting.
Farris counted as everyone looked up.
“1, 2, 3.”
“Chee-eeeeze,” the little kids said.
“1, 2, 3.”
“Queso! Cheese!” the group shouted louder.
“1, 2, 3.”
Got it. In just five minutes.
The crowd yelled.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” a grateful Farris said.
Mexican Elvis was free to enter the building.