Family reunions always begin a bit awkwardly. A car will throttle through the campground driveway, churning up clouds of dirt, and out will spill 4-5-6 smiling mid-western aunts and uncles who all immediately hug and slap the backs of older relatives running to them with extended arms. A couple of seconds later, the youngins will clamber out of the car, futilely kicking back empty bags of Doritos and other debris from the long road trip before being bombarded with hugs, cookies and questions about college and majors that they don’t know the answers to. All the while, you’re genuinely smiling and laughing, but you’re also scraping the back of your memory for clues. Hopefully they’ll drop hints on how you’re related before you must attempt to recall their name and whose kids they are (or what kids they have) or else it gets even more awkward. Who goes with which Facebook profile picture again? And who’s the aunt that tends to over share on Facebook and where’s second cousin that leaves the most bewildering comments on all of your photos?
When utterly lost, I just keep smiling and waving.
It seems to work.
We aren’t a small family. With my dad’s 6 brothers and 1 sister, I have a total of 19 first cousins. Overall with all of the extended family, there were at least 35+ of us streaming through the camp park. With so many of us, everyone openly jokes how it’s near to impossible to remember all of our family ties. I suggested creating a Games of Thrones inspired family tree that we could refer to. Another relative suggested flashcards that would include summaries and pictures from the past several years of each family member that would be sent out in batch emails for pre-reunion required reading. But perhaps that’s overkill. Next reunion?
It’s noon and everyone’s gathered for lunch. (It took a total of 10 minutes for the ice to be broken and for everyone to remember who everyone is again). Glancing around our campsite that’s dotted with tents, lunch tables and haphazardly parked cars, our set up looks similar to the middle school camping trips I used to take around Thailand’s national parks with my eco club (minus the mosquitoes, elephants and tigers). Everyone’s mingling and chowing down on all-Americana food, either lounging out on foldable lawn chairs or perching on small logs around the campfire. A pile of volleyballs and Frisbees has been casted off to the side for later on. Like all families do, we have our quirks. For one, the coffee stand was the first thing to be unpacked out of the van and set up on the first day and the last piece to be packed away on our final day. Secondly, we all share a common sweet tooth – originating from my grumps, or grandpa, who properly stocks his freezer with 4 gallons of ice cream at a time, puts butter on everything – by everything, I mean EVERYTHING, and is capable of eating up to 3 bags of popcorn on a nightly basis – with butter of course. Lastly, when packing up the early morning of our final day, my aunt nonchalantly brought out and played her bagpipes to entertain us while we broke down our tents. But rather then upset our camping neighbors, she actually attracted a small following who gathered to take videos and began to protest when she had paused to rest.
During the summertime in Michigan, everyone goes ‘up north’. It’s a Michigander concept that you probably won’t grasp but one that everyone in my family relates to. Basically, it didn’t truly feel like summer until two weeks ago when I was standing out on the front porch of my grandparents’ cabin, basking in the cool breeze coming fresh off the lake. The past 18 summers of my life were all spent with the rest of my 20+ family on the Northern shores of lake Huron and this summer was the first I had ever been away. So when I was able to snag 4 days away from my job in Washington State for our family reunion, I leapt at the opportunity despite having to travel half that time. My golden childhood summers were painted memories of dipping in the lake at sunset, roasting s’mores by the fire, catching minnows and fireflies at dusk, swimming out to ‘Fiji’ or ‘Milan Island’, sailing on sunny days, and happily licking ice cream on the docks. Our time together came and went just as expectedly as the seasons did – we always knew what to expect and never thought past them. But inevitably, time flies by, loved ones pass away, we grow up, and suddenly – holy cow I need to make money, find internships, travel the world and stake my own flag of independence! With a bittersweet realization, I eventually acknowledged, just like all my older cousins did before me, that our flags couldn’t always flutter on the shores of lake Huron where the winds have already been tried and tested. It’s become time to venture out and challenge stronger winds. And however bittersweet it is to already refer to our time in the Upper Peninsula more as memories than present reality, our heartstrings innately pull towards the North and I know that we’ll all reunite again – sooner than later.
If you’re with your family tonight, hug them tighter for me. If you’re only your pets, still do the same. I really miss my dog.
ALSO MORE REASON TO CELEBRATE – THE CONVICTION OF NEIL AND FERDI HAS BEEN OVERTURNED AND THEY’RE NOW REUNITED WITH THEIR FAMILIES AND FRIENDS! Finally.