Family reunions: breakdowns but lots of love
A few summers ago, my family gathered for a three-day reunion in Wyoming and attended my husband’s family reunion in Illinois a week later. I needed more recovery time. My eyes had barely begun to refocus when we departed for Illinois.
I have six siblings; Joel has seven. Counting spouses, children, grandchildren, family friends with more courage than sense, and curious strangers wearing Oh-my-god expressions, both families became multitudes — or mobs, depending on one’s viewpoint.
The unfortunate people in charge of planning reunions for such large, extended families deserve pity and extra dessert. My siblings and I rotate the chore; when our turn arrives, we stutter, lose sleep and develop rashes. Blaine worked on the Wyoming event for months. Then, during the reunion, he raved about herding cats and kicked tree stumps.
Blaine’s breakdown began when he suggested specific dates, with which the rest of us found fault.
We had previously scheduled functions we couldn’t possibly miss: dental appointments, pet spayings, and ripening tomatoes. We exchanged calls, texts and emails of diminishing civility until he managed to force a grudging consensus. Next, he had to find a site that could handle our rampaging horde. Again, bickering transpired — mostly polite: “You think I’m going to drive four-hundred miles to stay in a cabin with mice and spiders and without air conditioning? You never did have good sense.”
In July, our spats forgotten, we convened at Louis Lake in the Wind River Mountains. The early arrivers chose the best cabins and dissected those not attending or arriving late. Some claimed Donald would participate only if we met in his backyard — and then he’d leave early. Others thought Bessie always arrived frazzled and several hours late because she enjoyed the attention she received from the worriers. And all of us critiqued those who arrived with an altered appearance: Pete’s dragon tattoo, Jed’s weight gain, Alice’s orange hair and Gerta’s enhanced chest.
As more people arrived, the fun began. Toddlers wobbled through forests of adult legs, lost their clothing, and gnawed on pinecones. Running pell-mell into the lake, they tested their parents’ reflexes; then they fell asleep on stairs, in the canoe and at dinner with tendrils of spaghetti in their hair.
School-aged children clung to their parents and eyed one another shyly before responding to some secret signal only they recognized, which united them in riotous play. Teenagers proved they could multi-task: checking their cell phones, nodding in time to music from their ear buds, discussing escape plans and reprimanding their siblings.
New parents tended to their babies with a distracted air, intent on conversations with the cousins they once chased and teased. Older folks issued health bulletins, discussed retirement benefits, and remembered when they organized the softball games and encouraged the water fights. As we sat in lawn chairs and watched the hubbub, a sister-in-law remarked, “Can you believe it? We’ve become the old aunts.”
Those with the strongest voices or bossiest natures issued commands as needed: “You kids quit throwing watermelon rinds!” “Whoever took Roscoe’s cane needs to bring it back right now!” “Someone make Emily stop drinking from that puddle!” and the ever-popular, “Food’s ready; there’s plenty for everybody; no need to stampede and shove.”
Food tastes better when prepared by loved ones and eaten shoulder-toshoulder with those who know and accept your triumphs and failures, struggles and strengths, character flaws and questionable politics. Each year during our reunions, long-time relationships deepen and new ones form around tables filled with favorite family recipes and multiple desserts.
Too soon, it was time to leave. Some departed stealthily, quietly drifting away to avoid the tumult of good-byes; others hugged anyone who wandered within reach. A few cried; several wanted to. We exchanged promises to keep in touch and proposed contradictory plans to JL, next year’s planner.
Finally, cars were loaded; children waved from rear windows; and, driving away, my heart overflowed with gratitude and love for my family.
Janet Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available on Amazon. She writes from Craig, and blogs at auntbeulah.com.