During the most recent visit with my in-laws, we were talking about upcoming family events. My Mother-in-law reminded us that this is her year to have the family get-together, sometime in the Fall, on a day that will not conflict with any Alabama games. All college football fans know exactly what I’m talking about.
Then she said: “and this will be my last year of doing this.” Just like that. With those words, an era was ending. When we recovered our composure enough to ask her why, she said, “well, when it is my turn to host again, I’ll be 89 years old, if I’m even around.” I felt a certain loss at this knowledge, like we are losing one more thing that was an institution in our lives. One more thing that grounded us.
This loss was further compounded when we discussed another family reunion that occurs the last Sunday in July every year. The last July reunion we went to was in 2010. In 2011, we couldn’t go because my husband was still in the hospital after his triple bypass surgery. In 2012 I had to turn around on our way to the reunion to take him to the emergency room. In 2013, the reunion was shrouded in mystery as we waited patiently for the invitation to come. It never did. About 3 days before the reunion would have taken place, we found out why. The kind, funny, enthusiastic, family get-together-loving cousin who had spear-headed the event had passed away in the Spring and his widow was too distraught to try to plan it. Not only did we mourn his loss, but also his role as the glue that held us together.
When I asked if she thought there would be another reunion, she was very doubtful, feeling that it wouldn’t happen unless one of the grandchildren took it up. And she reminded us that things like that aren’t a big priority with the younger folks. Yet another institution crumbling.
I remember reunions from my childhood: my grandmother’s family got together the 2nd Sunday in June. It was a drive of about four hours, and we would leave before the sun came up, so we could spend time with my great-aunt before we met at the old family church. It was very exciting…we were out of our routine, and there was plenty of activity as we packed the fried chicken, gallons of iced tea and potato salad into the trunk of the car. Whoever thought about it first got into the front seat, in that coveted spot between my grandparents, where they would fall asleep again under the arctic blast of the car’s air conditioner. The day unfolded as we got to our destination and got reacquainted with cousins we hadn’t seen since the previous year. There were tons of laughs, food and fun. It was a glorious respite…we soaked it up, knowing that these times had to sustain our connection for another year, until the next time.
I remember learning that the reunions on my grandfather’s side began as a birthday party for my great-grandfather. Apparently, a great time was had by all and it was decided that it would become a yearly event. This decision would provide yet another source of happiness for us great-grandchildren. Yet another connection to sustain us, to keep us acquainted with those family members we didn’t see every day.
My train of thought is this: these events in my child’s mind were something that I took for granted. Yet, in my adult mind, I know that each year took it’s own brand of planning…they didn’t just spontaneously happen. In her own way, my Mother-in-law passed the torch, or at the very least, put the ball in our court. To what magnitude we would keep things going will be up to us. Will we reach out to the extended cousins to continue the tradition, or keep it closer to home? It will take some time to figure out where to go from here, but the important thing is to address the need to stay in contact. If the yearly reunion has taught us anything, it is that with family, you can always pick up where you left off.