(This is one of my earliest family reunions caught on film. I am the adorable bald baby in the front row. At some point during this reunion I am put on the back of a pony and apparently lose my mind. Not in a good way. I don’t remember any of this, but I’ve been told the story enough so that I feel like I do.)
Over the Fourth of July weekend, my family and I traveled to Iowa for a family reunion.
I am a giant fan of family reunions and this one in Iowa is a particular family favorite. My kids look forward to the 8 hour drive (because they’re weird and I buy lots of snacks) and they love the fireworks, the good food, and most of all, the people.
I also love all those same things (even the 8 hour drive because weirdness and a love of snacks is hereditary) but most of all I love hearing the old stories being retold by my cousins, aunts, and uncles.
Storytelling is a serious business in my family and we devote all afternoon to it, sitting around the kitchen table, eating leftovers from the day before, homemade cherry pie, and chocolate covered Oreo balls. Most of the stories begin by pulling out a single photograph to share with the other.
We tell the stories of long ago, before any of us were born. There is the story of how my grandma and grandpa eloped, sneaking down to Missouri to get married without anyone knowing. Afterwards, Grandma Hester felt so embarrassed and nervous that she returned back home where nobody knew she had even gotten married until my grandfather showed up a week later, tired of waiting for her, and spilled the beans.
There’s my absolute favorite story of how Dad, through careful stealth and planning, scared the pants off my Uncle John one night up in their bedrooms. In retaliation, Uncle John quickly beat the stuffing out of my Dad. My father always maintained that this was a fair trade. A few years ago, my cousin videotaped my Dad telling this story at a family reunion and my copy of it is one of my most prized possessions.
My cousins and I tell more recent stories, the ones involving ourselves and our offspring. Stories of sickness and triumphs, stories of dating and marriage, stories of jobs and promotions, and then incredibly frightening stories of college admissions. (Despite the fact that my oldest son is practically a baby, my cousins warn this day will be here before I know it. I pray they’re lying.)
At dinner time the talking doesn’t stop, we simply exchange one kitchen table for another. This one is laden with lasagna and rhubarb pie. As I butter
my second, my third roll, my husband whispers in my ear that he’s going to be sick. But that doesn’t stop him from grabbing a bowl when the ice cream is brought out.
Even though for 363 days out of the year my cousins and I live far apart in different states, having these two days to share stories with each other knits our hearts together in a way that makes distance unimportant.
Family bonds are real and sacred things, this I have learned. And they are strengthened even more by the stories we share together.
My greatest hope is that some Fourth of July holiday in the distant future you will find my children and their cousins gathered together around a table as they eat chicken and noodles from my grandma’s recipe and stuff themselves with Oreo balls.
And then I hope they pull out a copy of this photograph and say, “Remember when this was taken?”