The family reunions are the anchors of the summer calendar. It seems my whole life placing other summer-time activities in relation to the reunions was just an easy reference guide when a real calendar was out of sight. My mom would say ‘that event’ is three weeks before the reunion, or ‘it’ takes place the Sunday following the reunion. There was never a year that I can recall when a family gathering of some sort did not take place. The images of my dad going into town to get ice for the large cooler filled with pop that would be transported in his trunk, or my mom putting the Saran wrap over the top of the potato salad are reunion memories that are as much a part of summer as the first sunburn, or the fireworks on July 4th. Fortunately over the years the family reunion tradition has endured even though we age and life changes.
When I was a boy my mom’s family would gather each summer at my grandparents when cousins would converge on the farmstead. My dad’s side for many years would meet at Lake Alpine in Waushara County where even on the sultriest day a cool breeze would blow off the lake. Over the years friends would remark that my family was not typical based on having an annual family reunion, let alone having a separate one for each of my parent’s families. While I know these gatherings are not representative for most people, I find they are important. The sense of history and family continuity is, I believe, even more important today given how fragmented society can be, and isolating that technology (such as the internet) can make us feel. Reunions are a sort of glue that binds us to the roots of the family tree. Our shared heritage is what unites us, and connects us one to another. That is why it is so important for young kids to understand why we meet every year. A sense of history and who we are is found at each reunion among the treasure trove of faces.
When we gather each year for a family reunion it is for more than just good food and laughter. If we think about why we gather, and what we do together, we soon discover a path to our past. For instance a few years ago a stranger walking past the Coloma Park in late July might have thought “Your Hit Parade” had made a return. With printed song tunes, a guitar strumming family crooner from outside Chicago, led the extended Humphrey family as they reprised many old standards under warm sunny skies. While renting a bus and touring seemed premature, with a little practice… It was a reunion that the kids (young and old) will recall all their lives.
As is bound to be the case whenever families gather there is always a bounty of great food and fabulous desserts. With full plates those around the tables buzzed with stories of the past year and plans for the future. There is never a shortage of conversations regardless of where we all come from. Folks might fly in from Texas, or drive from Oklahoma, or come from just over the hill and through the woods. What the grandkids are up to, where summer travels have led people, “How big are your tomatoes?” “Do you remember when?” and maybe even a political discussion or two can be heard ’round the tables.
Each family reunion I am reminded that the cycle of life repeats itself endlessly and in so doing assures us that our family endures. It seems too often our larger family suffers personal losses. While some faces that once graced us from across one of those tables are no longer with us, their memories are only a story away. And those memories inevitably lead to smiles. But our larger family also expands as babies are born, and life partners are brought to the reunions.
Meeting each summer is also a real way to honor those who came before us. Though generations removed, our Great Grandparents who shaped our family, those colorful personalities that dot our ancestral tree through rich and humorous old time stories now shared between the generations, all keeps a family in touch with its past. In time, we too will be added to that never-ending tapestry of family lore.
Until then it is time to put the dates on the calendar. It will soon be summer and that means family reunion time.