Tag Archives: family reunion

LSS: Boatload of family

Everybody involved knows it could have gone either way.

With 18 family members spending six days and nights together — and what with family dynamics being what they are, let’s be real. It really could have gone either way.

But it was my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.

To celebrate, my parents — especially my mom — wanted our whole family (including children, spouses and kids) to be together for a week. After debate, discussions, compromises and a ratification process that surely rivaled the Geneva Convention, we settled on going on a cruise together. For a year, we’ve been making arrangements — that’s how long it takes to coordinate the schedules and make arrangements for 18 people to go on a weeklong adventure together.

Yet, other people do this all the time. Indeed, large groups of people do this all the time. All I have to say is that I tip my hat to whoever organizes all those family trips and cruises.

I handled the logistics of this one. Such planning is not for the faint of heart. Most of my family is either afraid of me or recognized that this was a chance to take it in and be, as my niece said, an “accommodator”. Fortunately, they had the good sense to refrain from offering any unsolicited critique or much in ways of complaining.

By the way, if you have a person in your family who seems to magically make all sorts of events happen, let me tell you, it’s not magic. It’s hard work. Hug them. (Who am I kidding?) Hug her. Send her flowers. Tell her she’s wonderful. Don’t complain if the cole slaw isn’t just how you like it. Getting all this stuff together and trying to make sure all the pieces and parts fit, the place is clean, everybody gets invited and gets there and not offend or aggravate anyone in the process requires energy.

I will admit I was nervous going into this trip. My expectations were not high.

Family dynamics in my family are like most families — they’re complicated.

For us, differences in political opinions transcend most of our interactions.

Yes, you’re right — that’s crazy. You are correct — people, especially families, shouldn’t let a little thing like politics cloud relationships. All I can say is that we’re trying not to let those issues creep in to discussions. We’ve been down that road before, and now we’re better. I believe when we’re together my family lives in a constant internal battle not to make assumptions or say off-handed comments that presume another’s views. We’ve all made this unspoken commitment to each other in order to remain as a cohesive family unit.

So, on this cruise, the 18 of us were on a boat big enough to do our own things as necessary and contained enough to get together often. Some of us met for trivia competitions. Some of us met by the pool. We cheered my baby brother on in the hairy chest competition. Before we had dinner together every evening, we gathered for at least an hour. My mom asked each of her children’s spouses to orchestrate simple programs about our family, offering a chance to honor one another and hopefully our children gathered some of the family history, as well.

We all took part in the programs — my parents, my brothers, their wives and all of our children and spouses. The gatherings were magical. They were beautiful. They were good for us. Adulthood gets in the way of families sometimes, doesn’t it? And that’s where our family had been for a while. After a week together, I feel a new kinship with each of them.

Even though none of us knew what the trip together would hold, my parents were right. A week together is exactly what my family needed.

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 jan@janrisher.com.)