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.