LSS: Family Reunion guide

To my 15-year-old daughter’s dismay, Dr. Who and his time-traveling police box are figments of the ample imaginations of the British Broadcasting Company.

For the most part, I am OK with the lack of possibility for time travel — and I believe that gift is in large part due to parents, family and a host of others who insisted on my being engaged with whatever it was that going on at the moment.

Including family reunions.

When I was growing up, my family had family reunions more often than my friends’ families went to the movies. Of course, with time, and the distance it creates, we don’t get together nearly as often as we once did. But in a few weeks, the descendents of my great-grandparents will have what my great-aunt declares “very well may be our last reunion.”

“We’re getting old,” she said.

My great-aunt Joanna is one of the youngest of a slew of children. Her only younger sibling, Mary Ellen, had down syndrome and passed away a few years ago. Aunt Jo still has three brothers and a sister living, but I fear she might be right. Even still, we have a long line of family reunions to uphold.

Since my family lived a block away from Family Reunion Center, aka my great-grandmother’s house, getting to the party was easy. I almost always took my trusty bike. My great-grandmother’s tiny two-bedroom house, with a single bath, seemed like the only logical choice for a reunion locale to any of us. We certainly didn’t all have a place to sit. For that matter, we couldn’t all be inside at the same time. Yet, things worked. Or maybe I just thought they did because I was a kid.

While those people and gatherings shaped so much of my life and perspective, my memories of the events a blur — with people, fried chicken, caramel cakes, tubs of ice and plastic cups asunder.

Those jumbled memories have inspired A Guide to Family Reunions — for one and all, but especially for children, teens and pre-teens.

Few children, teens or pre-teens are going to accept this challenge with their whole hearts. Do them a favor and coax them with what works to do it. In the years to come, they will be glad they did.

– Before you go to a family reunion, ask questions.

– Ask as many family members as possible to tell you a significant family story.

– Find out why your family lives where they live. How long have they been there, and where were they before?

– Ask why you eat the food you eat at family reunions. Who created or perfected the recipes?

– Ask how it is you’re related to other relatives. If your closest adult doesn’t know, find one who does. Keep asking until you have a picture of your family tree in your mind — or better yet, create a family tree on paper.

– Take as many pictures as possible at the reunion, but be sure to take at least one picture of each person there. If you’re ambitious, affix the pictures (digitally or otherwise) to your family tree.

– Take pictures of people bringing food, cooking the food, eating the food and the table in general.

– Take at least three group shots. Group shots are not easy to organize and usually work better before the big meal. If a child is driving the photo, for some reason, it works better. So, kids, don’t be afraid to take the initiative.

– During the reunion, take video if possible. Ask relatives to tell you a story on camera.

– Identify in writing the people in the photographs as quickly as possible. Explain how each person is related.

– Various Internet genealogy sites are great aids in creating family trees.

One day you and those around you will be grateful you took the Family Reunion Challenge. I wish I had done it myself. I regret that so many of those moments that seemed inconsequential at the time aren’t more clearly in focus now. Back then, I mainly concentrated on how long we would have to wait to eat or which game we would play next.

I wish I had one more chance to walk through that living room, dodging legs and stepping over piles of people, listening to that bizarre combination of laughter and awkward silences family reunions sometimes inspire. In my mind, I can see flashes of faces clearly, but I’d love to watch and listen for a few minutes more.

However, if Dr. Who showed up and offered me a trip back, I’m pretty sure I’d head straight to the kitchen and sit with my great-grandmother as she made yet another apple pie — and I’d take it in as best I could.

(Jan Risher’s column Long Story Short appears Sundays. Email her at

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3 thoughts on “LSS: Family Reunion guide”

  1. I wish I could see the smile on Granny’s face just one more time myself. Things were much simpler then. I remember the big black pan she always made dressing in. I will be filling that same pan with dressing for the reunion on October 5th. It will not taste like Granny’s – that could never be duplicated. I will however give it one more try. Can’t wait to see everyone – think this will be one to remember. Sheila Hall-Moore

  2. I remember well the reunions on South Raleigh Street. Those were carefree days for me. My children cherish the memories of the reunions at Roosevelt State Park. Even though we only lived 15 minutes away, we always rented a cabin. It was like a vacation. I love hearing all the stories, especially the one Uncle Bobby told about my dad and a drunk rooster.

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