All Together Now

Every few years, my extended family gets together for a reunion. The past two or three reunions were held in San Diego, so that my parents could participate without traveling. Mom and Dad are both gone now, so when the momentum began to rise for another reunion, we considered a lot of different locations.

My brother Tom has been the organizing force for our gatherings, and about a year ago he started up the dialogue: Where should we meet? Jackson, Wyoming? Banff, Canada? I am the only family member living “back East,” so getting together someplace in the west made sense. We eventually settled on the Oregon coast—new territory for all of us.

Then comes the discussion of who will bunk with whom, who can carpool from the airport. Closer to the reunion we start planning Big Events. This year, a bunch of us went out on a fishing boat. Another group did a five-mile hike. One brother put on breakfast for the whole tribe, a sister sprang for a pizza night. Working out these logistics adds more fun to the anticipation.

When we get together, it’s a chance for a lot of the young people to put names with faces, and faces with tall tales. (I am famous for that time when, at aged five, I decided I needed to know how much my head weighed. Picture seven people trying to get out of the house in the morning rush, one bathroom, and me locked in there with a bathroom scale and a hand mirror. Thank heavens for mothers who know how to pick a lock with a bobby pin.)

Over a few slices of pizza, I found myself explaining to my brother’s almost-grown children that our dad never attended any of bro’s Little League games—not ever. Didn’t know what position my brother played, never attended practices. Same Dad did not attend high school or college graduations for his younger children, never came to a piano recital of mine. I passed along this information not to slam my dear old dad (who was a fine parent in many ways), but because my niece and nephew have a very involved father—maybe too involved?—and not enough context about why that is.

I approached this reunion a little grudgingly. I love my family dearly, but I do not love transcontinental flights, I do not love losing my writing momentum, I do not love big gangs of people—not even big gangs of people I care for very much. I’m intimidated by the logistics of driving around unfamiliar terrain, I’m always nervous about spending money on travel.

But I am so GLAD I went, so grateful these kind, interesting, busy people all took time out of their schedules to spend a few days with me. These reunions are the primary way we maintain a family identity, and the only way I see many of my nieces and nephews, much less my siblings and their spouses. So I left the reunion already looking forward to the next one, which is a wonderful compliment to my family.

How do you maintain the ties that bind? Is there anybody you’d like to get together with more often? Any gatherings that have out-lived their usefulness? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed ARC of Forever and a Duke.

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25 comments on “All Together Now

  1. 1
    Teenie Marie says:

    My spouse’s family holds a yearly *Meatball Fest*, trying to recreate their Italian Grandma’s recipe. Some folks come in from out of town and folks cook, talk and visit. It’s held the weekend around her birthday in November and it’s tons of fun. Our own family isn’t always eager to go, depending on who’s hosting. Certain people want to make Grandma a Saint (she WASN’T) and those are the years we don’t go.

    This year, Hubby and I are having a 40th wedding anniversary party, mainly because each one of each us one living parent. We’ve invited family and very close friends–all people we love and care about. Our hope is to have a reunion of sorts, and not really a party about us. We are looking forward to it and hope others are as well.

    • 1.1
      Grace Burrowes says:

      Forty years is a loooooong time! Congratulations on going that distance. I would like to be a fly on the wall at the Meatball Fest. The kitchen wall–all the best conversations happen in the kitchen at our reunions.

  2. 2
    Mary T says:

    My parents both came from big families. However, my father was estranged from most of his family. So I only knew the one aunt and two uncles who actually raised him.

    However, my mother came from a family of 14 and they had reunions every couple of years. I loved them – they were such fun! What I loved most was that sooner or later they would all start singing together. It was how they entertained themselves back in the Depression when they were too poor sometimes to even have a radio. Loved it.

    • 2.1
      Grace Burrowes says:

      I married a guy whose mom was one of thirteen and his dad was one of six. Seemed like for our first year of marriage, every three weeks, somebody among the aunts and unc was dying, but much to my surprise, the funerals were VERY social. Part of the family was conservative Mennonite, another part was I guess what you’d call un-conservative. Funerals were one of very few occasions when everybody was welcome and the bishop couldn’t disapprove. And the food… good lord, those ladies could cook (and those old guys could eat)!

  3. 3
    Susan Gorman says:

    We are in the midst of a three day wedding celebration. The rehearsal dinner, wedding and brunch have been filled with family and friends celebrating.
    I noticed that college and grad school friends were part of the bridal party and took up several tables. It was great to see everyone dancing and simply having a great time.
    I think weddings, much like a family reunion offer people a chance to reconnect.

    I host the holidays and several of our friends are now considered family. We catch up, reminisce and enjoy a good meal. I think my daughter enjoys hearing about the old days when her parents were young and not so strict!

    Glad you enjoyed your family time!

    • 3.1
      Grace Burrowes says:

      I do love a good wedding. It’s such a friendly blend of new faces and old friends, at least from the perspective of a guest. The sense of everybody being united in wishing a couple well is also just so lovely. I might have to start my next book with a wedding, now that I think about it!
      And PS–Congratulations to the parents of the happy couple!

  4. 4
    Polly Cassady says:

    Family reunions are the heart of our summer. We are a small family, and mom is 92 now,living in scenic upstate NY. Half the family is west coast, half in the south, but we all come to her in the summer. It is indeed the time for family stories, and “do you remember?” and ‘once your xxx …’. Wonderful times for laughter and live.

    • 4.1
      Grace Burrowes says:

      May she live in good health forever…I know people who will use ANY excuse to spend a summer day in upstate NY, too!

  5. 5
    Make Kay says:

    I wish I lived closer to my brother and sister-in-law. We see each other only a couple of times a year, and I wish it was more! The large family reunions don’t happen very much anymore, but I often could n’t make it to those, which is a bummer in and of itself too

    • 5.1
      Grace Burrowes says:

      Bummer is a good word. Because I live so far off the beaten track for most of my family members, I don’t get to know the nieces and nephews, don’t get beyond platitudes with the people they marry. Then there are the great nieces and nephews, on whose radar I don’t really register. That’s sad, but at least we have these occasional gatherings. As I said to a sibling thirteen years my senior: Better a reunion than a funeral, because that’s awaiting us too.

  6. 6
    Sue says:

    Wow, I’m impressed with your reunion. My family is sadly lacking in the ability to hold together. We used to get together for marriages, Anniversaries, Bine’ Mitzvah, that sort of thing. But in this generation the whole thing has failed to transmit.

    Interesting though, with my mother’s passing I have found myself in contact with cousins I have not heard from in many many years. This was in aide of having a “Celebration of Life” for mom at the end of June (she died in Sept). A further stroke of good luck was the proximity to my 50th high school reunion so I had my to closest childhood best friends with me through the weekend. The result was an exquisite sense of nostalgia completely devoid of the trauma and pain that is a part of growing up. To have that is very precious and I have added it to the list of posthumous hugs my mother has sent me.

    • 6.1
      Grace Burrowes says:

      Awwww… My mom’s favorite bird was the song sparrow. Immediately after she died, my brother walked out of her room and went out on the deck. It was daybreak, and what should come flitting by but a madly caroling song sparrow. So there he is on the deck of his AirBnB house,watching the sun set over the Pacific on the first night of the reunion, and who comes bopping by, caroling madly, but a song sparrow. My dad’s bird, the frigate bird, also put in an appearance, and even with global warming, they NEVER get that far north.

  7. 7
    Amy Ikari says:

    Happy Sunday! We write letters and send happy mail because you can read and reread and different time zones and being in foreign countries does not interfere. Looking forward to your books. Have a blessed week! ❤️❤️❤️✉️

    • 7.1
      Grace Burrowes says:

      Isn’t there something purely wonderful about getting a real letter on real paper? I don’t do enough of that, but your comment reminds me to keep the note cards handy.

  8. 8
    Kathy B says:

    My family is so scattered and many are now too old to comfortably travel. That makes getting together difficult, but very poignant when we are able to do so. Unfortunately, recently our reunions have been based around funerals and one wedding back home (for almost all of us) in Jamaica. Family dynamics also make for some tension and factions squaring off with predictable frequency, making for exciting, thrilling and exhausting times. It makes you so glad to fly home and catch up via the phone and Facebook.

    • 8.1
      Grace Burrowes says:

      I am very, very fortunate in my family. My dad came from a high-drama, multiple-divorce household before it was popular, and affirmatively sought a calm, congenial partner. So far (knock wood) we’ve avoided big explosions, banishments, feuds, and stinky behavior… but it has been a near thing on occasion. We mutter and grumble, but in this regard, maybe living at a distance helps us stay cool.
      My mom’s baby sister was at this reunion (Sharon is in mid-eighties) and being able to see her and spend time with her in that setting was especially wonderful.

  9. 9
    Glenda M says:

    I would like to get together with both sides of my extended families occasionally, but neither side gets together often since the elders have moved on. Even my 81 year old father and his siblings rarely get together – much less with the entire clan. My mother was an only child but was close with her mother’s family so we saw them fairly often even after her mother died. I did reconnect with some of my cousins on her side of the family when my son moved to Colorado for grad school. When I’m out, a few of us will get together for a few hours.

    The best thing about social media (Facebook) is that it makes it easier to stay in touch with friends and family who I don’t live close to. Group messaging makes it easy to coordinate get togethers when we are going to be near each other. It has been the best way to stay connected in recent years.

    • 9.1
      Grace Burrowes says:

      My family isn’t on FB much, but I agree. For those relationships were you do care, but you don’t see much of each other, those pictures and updates are really nice.

  10. 10
    Paula B says:

    My family has been going to camp at a small lake in northern Wisconsin since my daughter was a toddler (she’s 28 now). It’s one of those places with no electric hook-ups, spotty cell service and a 20 minute drive to anywhere outside the park. And I love it.

    This is the place where many of my best memories are set. We swim or bike or walk or play games. And laugh and talk and laugh some more.

    • 10.1
      Teenie Marie says:

      We go to Door County in Wisconsin with our kids–next Sunday’s the day we go this year–and the cell and internet have finally caught up to 21st century. We do the same things; it’s time to learn about each other as we are, play games, hike and bike and LAUGH. Keeps me going the rest of the year. 🙂

    • 10.2
      Grace Burrowes says:

      But Paula,do you READ BOOKS?
      A lot of Swedish families have summer homes like this, very rustic, usually by the water. Raises hangin’ out to a high art, and reminds me of summer childhood days, when I’d be outside for most of the day, and earn myself a righteously tired sleep each night.

  11. 11
    Marianne says:

    Probably the single best thing I’ve done with respect to “keeping in touch” is to try to maintain a good calendar of birthdays, anniversaries, “death days” and such. Then a quick text, an e-mail, a phone call, is appropriate.

    And good on ya for making the effort to get to Oregon. I don’t think it’s possible to fly there directly from anywhere.

    • 11.1
      Grace Burrowes says:

      There is one direct flight to Portland from Dulles, but on the return jaunt, the only non-stop is a red-eye. Takes me a week to get straightened out after that flight…
      My mom used to say things like, “If Aunt Catherine were alive, she’d be 117 today…” As a kid, I thought that was an odd thing to note. I’m older now. I get it.

  12. 12
    Elizabeth Walkowski says:

    Family reunions are precious indeed. The last one for my family was on my mother’s 90th birthday, when family from east and west coast, as well as France, celebrated with massive amounts of sangria and other very potent potables. Since Mother’s 100th will be in a year and a month, we are starting to think about reuniting in 2020. I doubt if Mom will be able to join the gang, but we’ll take turns visiting her and talking about a century of her adventures–she was a WASP during WWII, a period she’ll never forget.

  13. 13
    Linda says:

    I’ve only done one family reunion – about 10 years ago. My uncle and his boys and their families gathered in Las Vegas to celebrate Henry’s 80th birthday. It was fun but I’ll admit as an only child it was too raucous for me. Henry had three boys and their boys had boys and well … boys. LOL