The other day my sisters mentioned that they would like to have a family reunion so we could all sit down together and share the stories we each remember about our childhood and also the stories from prior generations with which we were entertained by our elders when we were kids. Their idea caused me to think about all the family reunions I have ever attended.
My Aunt Annabel used to throw wonderful reunions. The many smallish rooms of her old-fashioned house encouraged guests to form conversational circles where there was a whole lot of talking and laughing going on from mid-morning to late afternoon. Sadly, that’s not the way reunions usually go.
I was at a reunion just last week. It took place in a park shelter during a heat wave so blistering that not another shelter in the park was in use although in prior years they have all been full. For the first act of business, everyone was unwillingly shoved into the overly hot late-morning sun for the obligatory group picture.
The shelter where the reunion took place has a huge chimney in the middle with fireplaces on two of its sides. This barrier means that the food tables and the guests are restricted to a narrow corridor around all that concrete. Just as in prior years, parents were anxious about overheated children and just as in prior years, each family sat down to eat surrounded by their own nearest and dearest. Cousins greeted each other and then went back to sitting with their own sons, daughters and grandchildren.
This is how it almost always is at any gathering where there is food involved. People come to eat. They sit with those they know best and they don’t really converse at all. Not long after dinner, someone decides to pack up their leftovers and head for home; and pretty soon everybody is gone but the organizer who is obliged to stay and clean up the mess.
My sisters and I have a Sunday morning conference call. We usually visit for a little over half an hour every week. Trapped as we are by our phone cords, we are forced to concentrate on our conversation. Together we plow through lots of topics and help each other remember things we had all but forgotten.
If I ever decide to host a reunion, I plan to model it after those conference calls. I will have the reunion occur in my home or some other comfortable, weather-controlled location. I will restrict it to adults over 18 but pictures of the beloved children and grandchildren will of course be welcome. I will device subject topics to distribute and force my family members to discourse on their topic and invite give and take from everyone else. Of course, I’m sure all my attendees will want a meal, but I think I’ll order hamburgers from fast food and make everyone sit in a circle to eat. We can put a trash basket in the middle and after we throw the wrappers in it, we can go right back to focused conversation. With food distraction kept to a minimum we might actually “re-unify” our family and share some great memories.