My mother is one of 11 children, all of whom married and had children of their own.
That makes me one of 46 first cousins, and all but three of us have married and had children too.
When my grandmother died at the age of 82, there were more than 100 direct descendants (children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren) at her funeral. That’s when my mother and her siblings decided they did not want to lose touch with each other nor with each other’s children. And they most certainly did not want funerals to be the only time we all got together.
Consequently, they called a meeting after the funeral service and organized a family reunion for the second Saturday in July of the following year. They put the oldest of the 11 siblings, my Aunt Rosalind, in charge of organizing it. Then they took up a collection to cover miscellaneous expenses and to fund the mailing of reminders to the 11 siblings, who were each to be responsible for getting the word out to all of their own clan.
That first reunion was held at Trail’s End Farm in Northern Michigan where the 11 siblings grew up and where one of Mom’s brothers still lived at the time. Activities included a carry-in dinner, followed by a wild and hilarious softball game for all comers, of all ages.
During a brief business meeting it was decided that responsibility for organizing the next reunion would fall to the next oldest sibling and would be passed down each year till each of the 11 had a turn. Then it would revert to the oldest again, if it continued that long.
In ensuing years, each sibling changed the format, location and activities as he/she saw fit. Eventually someone bought a plastic bin to hold leftover materials like paper plates, plastic cutlery, and mailing supplies. Each year after that, the sibling responsible for the next reunion took the bin home.
One year it was decided that we would raise money for the next reunion by holding an auction. Each family attending was asked to bring something to be auctioned. It stirred hilarious bidding rivalries over seemingly worthless items and, in the process generated more than enough funds for the next reunion. It also birthed a tradition as strong as the reunion itself.
Over the next few years we auctioned hand-crafted items and things of sentimental value to the family such as an old flat iron Grandma had used during all the years the siblings were growing up; a picture of Trail’s End Farm painted by my Aunt Anna; and a beautiful wood walking cane carved by my cousin Dean. Another year someone brought a quilt, pieced by the aunts from fabrics collected by every one of the eleven clans. It generated the greatest bidding war ever, but all in good fun.
One year the reunion continued well into the night with a bonfire and family sing-along. Everyone enjoyed it so much it, too, became an annual tradition.
One year someone designed a family crest and embroidered it on a banner that has been displayed at every reunion since. Another year two of my aunts composed a silly song about the reunion that we have all sung together every year since. It reminds us to meet again every S-E-C-O-N-D Saturday in July.
Last week I attended the 40th annual family reunion, still on the second Saturday in July, and still going strong. Best of all, I still know nearly every person who attends. There’s no other way this side of heaven that would ever have happened.