As you read this, I’m most likely sitting at a picnic table in a Paradise campground listening to a stretched fishing story told by one of my uncles while sopping up my other uncle’s famous sourdough pancakes slathered in my aunt’s famous homemade choke cherry syrup. This is what I’ve done the third weekend in June every year for almost my entire life. This particular family reunion is about to celebrate forty years.
It all started in the 1970s when a new aunt married into the family and decided to mend some bad blood between brothers. There was a misunderstanding about who would inherit the family ranch after WWII. The brothers quarreled, parted in a huff and left each other for dead for decades. Their stubbornness met its match when this spitfire little lady made them bury the hatchet under a weekend of family fun.
And it worked!
This reunion hasn’t been scandal-free, but it wouldn’t be a family event without some drama.
What began as a simple weekend of camping, fishing and silly skits around the campfire has expanded into full-blown theme weekends with decorations, costumes and coordinated activities. We’ve gone Hawaiian, played “Survivor,” held a Homecoming Week, county fair, circus and rodeo. We’ve been pirates, rednecks and Hollywood stars snapping pics on the red carpet with a life-size Oscar statue (i.e. my brother-in-law dressed in a metallic full-body unitard). We’ve had sock hops, concerts, talent shows and karaoke contests.
Yeah, my family’s got game.
But, not everyone is all in.
Some family branches have broken off over the years. Some didn’t like when we changed locations. Some think the annual dues are too much. Some have developed new bad blood with certain relations.
What can I say?
So how has this tradition survived for so long despite the challenges? There are a few core components that make up the glue.
First, it’s the same weekend every year—no exceptions or changes. We party with whomever shows up that weekend.
Second, we make it fun. Sure, if outsiders peaked in our campsite to find us dressed up like the crew of the Black Pearl engaged in an intense “Uno” game tournament, they’d probably call the loony bin to arrange for a bulk pick-up, but it’s certainly never dull. I’ll take a weekend o’ wacky over listening to Uncle Edwin read a lengthy family history apologue on a hot Saturday afternoon under a pavilion while eating hot potato salad.
Third, it’s well organized. We hold a family meeting at the end of each reunion to trouble shoot, hash out details and make assignments for the next year. It’s not a meeting for the faint of heart or the thin of skin. There’s a reason this family’s had bad blood. There are lots of big personalities and boisterous opinions in this tight-knit clan, so you have to learn to take it as well as dish it to survive.
But it’s worth it.
Watching Great Aunt Liz pull a pair of panty hose over her head with a softball hanging from one leg creating a pendulum to swing around and knock over a stack of juice boxes is well worth it.