Life with a smile: Music, Food, and Love at a Family Reunion

Published 6:00 pm Monday, July 31, 2017


Just in case our family vacation this year wasn’t sufficiently action-packed, in the midst of the excursions to the zoo, lake and water park, we popped over to Iowa for a weekend family reunion. The gathering was a big deal because the extended family on my mom’s side hadn’t congregated en masse in seven years. A lot changes in seven years. There were new spouses to be introduced, children who’d never met their cousins and countless updates to share that can’t be conveyed via Facebook. Some of my family members aren’t even on Facebook, a fact that disturbs me greatly.

It was an awesome weekend. We all piled into a church-run retreat center with a commercial-grade kitchen, big living area and two wings of motel-style rooms. A huge yard, bonfire pit, wildflower walking trails and the close proximity to a state park completed this place’s perfection.

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Now, to understand the reunion experience, you have to understand a bit about my family. For one, there are a lot of us. My mom has four siblings, all married with kids who are doing likewise as the years march on. So we had nine adults representing the first generation, 12 in my generation and 11 children. My family’s child-bearing is perfectly spaced to ensure an eternal supply of babies. My youngest first-cousins are in their early 20s while the oldest of the second-cousins is 18. One generation flows seamlessly into the next.

Then you need to understand how we operate. We’re rowdy and adventurous and like to do things. There wasn’t a TV to be seen and although one teenage cousin brought a super cool pair of VR goggles for everyone to try, technology was otherwise pretty scarce. On the other hand, there were kites and Frisbees and croquet. There were soccer and kick balls and glow sticks. There were camp chairs under shady trees and giant bowls of curry-spiced Chex mix (a legendary family recipe).

My people like food — a lot. While we made some concessions to the challenges of feeding 30 people (such as ordering pizza one night), we also organized a delicious salad potluck and a cookie challenge. That was a riot. Every family was encouraged to bake and bring their signature cookie recipe. The young cousins took charge of logistics, setting up a tasting station and carefully penning labels in newly-learned (and thus largely illegible) cursive. Armed with Cheerios as voting chits, everyone gorged on cookies and cast their votes. Lobbying, bribing and cheating were encouraged and the proclaimed victor won an ancient, battered Cookie Monster toy as prize.

As children were tucked into beds, still clutching glow sticks, grownups talked and laughed and organized a bourbon tasting. There were job updates to give, health concerns to share and connections dampened by distance to be rekindled— and music. My family doesn’t get together without music. We faithfully belt out the doxology before meals and on Sunday morning, we all went to church with my uncle — a Lutheran pastor — and sang a benediction hymn we’d rehearsed throughout the weekend. I’m not gonna’ lie, we sounded darned good.

I am an only child and so my cousins played the starring roles in many of my treasured childhood memories. The greatest joy of the weekend was watching my kids meet and fall in love with my cousins’ kids. I watched their initial shyness melt away, dissolving into giggles and horseplay as they romped in the yard like puppies and galloped through the kitchen during wildly unstealthy raids on the leftover cookies. I remember those days with tremendous fondness.

There were tears when we left and endless trips back into the house for one more hug. There were heartfelt vows to get together more frequently – and I hope we actually do it.

I could use more weekends full of music, food, and love with my family.