Janice and I recently attended a downtown concert in Kingsport, Tennessee where we reside, for the first time when the Twilight Alive series featured “Beausoleil.” I have long been a fan of this Cajun music band but never before had the opportunity to enjoy it in person.
While dining al fresco at a Broad Street establishment before the show, we met my former Times-News column editor, Don Fenley. During our wide-ranging conversation, genealogy came up and we related some of our respective family histories.
I mention this to introduce the subject of this column: family reunions. Mine just had one. Llike “Beausoleil,” we had a great time. But unlike “Beausoleil,” it was not the first time. That was a summer weekend approximately fifty years ago at my grandparents’ home in Middletown, Pennsylvania. I had to wait a while for the second on another summer weekend near Jefferson City, Tennessee – about twenty-five years later.
After that the family assembled every few years for weddings. Because we were having so much fun getting together, after one of the nuptials we decided to begin having reunions every other year.
With marriages and childbirths, our family has grown in number between every reunion. And as so many family members are educators, our gatherings must be one of the last two weekends of July. Because of this limitation, some are able to make every reunion, others are not.
Forty-two of us, about half the current family, made it to Jefferson City last month. (Along with half a dozen invited guests, and Oscar the brown dog, attending his first reunion.) We came from Maine, Massachusetts, New York, the Washington D. C. environs, North Carolina, Texas, New Mexico, both East and West Tennessee, and Ireland. And this year our ages ranged from three years old to ninety-four years young.
The weather cooperated wonderfully: two sunny, blue, warm days. Such has not always been the case. One year in Durham, North Carolina, the wet and windy tail end of a hurricane kept us inside the church camp cabin and lodge for a day. One year in Hurley, New York, it rained during our Hudson River cruise. And no one who was there will forget the sight of Allan grilling burgers with a spatula in one hand and an umbrella in the other. But whether the weather is fair or foul, we always have a joyous time catching up on the latest, snapping slews of candids, and eating: this year chowing down on pizza Friday at Aunt Kate’s, and on Buddy’s BBQ Saturday at cousin Peggy’s. Later we posed for the ritual families and generations photographs
And we talked and talked and talked. Family news was reported. Family stories were recalled with laughter. Three serious bicyclists traded road trip tales. Two photographers debated film versus digital photography as art. Several conversed knowledgably on theology (we had three “professionals” at the reunion and innumerable “amateurs”), and many discussed education, the economy, health care reform, politics and sundry other current events.
One family member summed up well why we so enjoy getting together. “I feel very fortunate to be in this family -- I sometimes wonder how many other families sit around and carry on the level of theological and political conversations we enjoy!” And we do, often passionately, often heatedly, often agreeing and often disagreeing. But never once have we ended up with some not speaking to others, as happens all too often in all too many families. That takes some doing, but we have managed it for over fifty years. How? It’s simple: we love another – and, just as importantly, we like each other.