The hardest part about living in Seattle is that most of my family is 3,000 miles away on the East Coast. We phone each other, we e-mail, we send photos, but it's not the same as gathering for Sunday dinners. That's why we look forward every year to seeing the whole gang at an informal reunion just after the school year ends. Sometimes held on Cape Cod, sometimes at my mother's home in New Jersey, our reunions give three generations the chance to play, feast, and marvel at how quickly the kids are growing. And we're not alone: According to the Travel Industry Association, a Washington, DC-based trade group, 25% of Americans say they'll attend a family reunion this year.
With an extended family that includes children ages 3 to 15, we're a lively group, even on the drizzly day Child joined 17 of us at my mom's house for a lunch of picnic favorites. The kids at Grandma's that day -- including my sons, Aidan, 7, Eli, 6, and Jasper, 4, and my sister Jen's children, Julianne, 13, Eric, 11, Jackie, 8, and Erin, 6 -- were happy to play board games, flip through photo albums, run around in the rain, and of course, enjoy the food! My artistic nieces and nephews also suggested projects such as making a scrapbook for their grandmother. Even though the kids hadn't seen one another for a long time, they fell into playing as if they'd been together every day.
Since snacking is a big part of any family gathering, we set out lemonade and baked pita chips with salsa and guacamole. Our meal was a buffet of easy-to-eat delicacies that appeal to all ages: thinly sliced filet of beef on toasted garlic French bread, grilled chicken and veggies on skewers with honey mustard dressing, and tortellini salad with pesto vinaigrette. For dessert, peach and deep-dish berry pies were so delicious, everybody went back for seconds. The kids also decorated vanilla and chocolate cupcakes, with extras to take home.
Looking Back ... and Ahead
My 83-year-old cousin, Betty, entertained the group with family stories like the one about my grandmother buying so many pairs of stockings for her friends that my exasperated grandfather said, "What are you, Lillian, a centipede?" This year, she had a new audience -- my sons. Watching them listen intently was thrilling for me.
As the day unfolded, I realized that our family's reunions are touchstones in our lives. We catch up, we laugh and eat, but we also reconnect with our roots, our memories, and our values. It feels good to know that our younger generation is beginning to live out the values our parents instilled in my brothers, sister, and me: a love of learning, respect for others, and a desire to make the world a better place.