Family comes in so many configurations, sizes, shapes, personalities; friends with whom we’ve shared our deepest concerns, worries, and celebrations; people with whom we’ve had an immediate, instant bond; siblings with whom we’ve shared a lifetime of memories (although definitely not always the same memories of the seemingly same event); family who comes with spouses, children, step-parents, grandparents, a constellation of people with whom we have ties.
On Saturday, August 10, we celebrated my parents’ family: my brothers and sisters, our children, and our children’s children. The affair was intentionally simple and time-defined. My older son and our two grandchildren were in Boulder for two weeks. Several of my nieces and nephews live in the area with their children. Their fathers (my twin brothers) used to live in the greater Denver area, so I figured it would be easy enough for them to join our gathering. My sisters live in Oregon and Washington, respectively, close to their grandchildren; they readily agreed to come for a few days and meet with the family picnic the centerpiece of whatever else they might plan.
My siblings and I grew up in southeastern Washington. Both sets of grandparents lived on the East Coast (New York and New Jersey). We only had six cousins (one in Connecticut, two in Minnesota, and three in the San Francisco Bay Area). I don’t recall ever having a family reunion with our cousins or their parents; visits with grandparents were rare because of the distance and cost, then, of air or train travel. Essentially, we grew up without much contact with close family.
Once we were grown with families of our own (scattered throughout the western United States), we didn’t have family get-togethers, either, our children growing up without much “cousin time,” as we’d done. Our parents (Mother, in particular) didn’t think family reunions would be successful: the five of us, despite the same parents and growing up in the same household, were quite different in perspective, job choices, personalities, you name it. But we did have successful reunions: at Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho for our father’s 75th birthday, and in Walla Walla for his 85th birthday. Mom wasn’t left out—we had a “siblings only” gathering for her 75th birthday at my house in the San Diego area.
Despite the trepidations, those events were fun, successful even; the cousins were able to put faces to names, some even connected enough to get-together on their own after the reunions; the five of us laughed at each other’s memories, the tried-and-true stories, the “how did she do it” wonderings of our mother raising five children spanning six years while our father was gone for weekends in a row, traveling with his college athletic teams, basketball in the winter and tennis in the spring; the vows to make the events happen more often.
Of course, the five of us (and as many children and grandchildren as possible) came together for our parents’ memorial services, March 2006 for our father and August 2014 for our mother. We also surprised Anne on her 70th birthday with a full day of brotherly and sisterly fellowship, coming from near and far to celebrate the first of us to reach that milestone (and then, the remaining four of us made it quite clear that we didn’t need or want similar reminders of our ages!).
This day in August was opportunistic. I didn’t know who might come, how many would make the effort, what we’d do for a full weekend with grandchildren ranging in age from eleven years to not-quite-a-year old. So a picnic in the park, with huge grassy fields, exquisite views of the Boulder Flatirons, playground, climbing trees, a delicious catered lunch, and a wonderful photographer, seemed to be an easy way to mingle, to see the grandchildren’s personalities shine, to give hugs, to watch the cousins mingle and reconnect…hopefully guaranteed to minimize any family drama. People could make arrangements before and after the “official” picnic to spend time with whomever they chose; I didn’t want the responsibility to mastermind anything. And it worked.
I was so pleased with the results: the five of us (the, gulp, now senior generation), six of our combined ten children (the three girls each have two boys and the twins each have a son and a daughter), and nine of the ten grandchildren played, ran, jumped in puddles (well, only my grandson), turned somersaults, climbed trees, and only shed a few tears. My parents were most certainly smiling and laughing with us, maybe a little amazed at the group they created!