Back in 2001 my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary and, after a big party to celebrate, the family – parents, siblings, spouses and partners, grandkids – went to an island in Lake Superior for a week-long reunion. Given that the family at the time was spread from the Boston through the Midwest, out to California and up to Alaska, the opportunity to reconnect was delightful. Five years later we returned and then in 2011 we went to a lodge on Lake Vermilion, a huge lake in Northern Minnesota, instead. Now 2016 was time for our fourth reunion.
The family has changed a lot, of course. Three new grandkids. Eleven new great-grandchildren. A couple in-laws left the scene. Sadly, my Dad died just a couple months ago, and we missed him a lot this week. My mom is on the long slide of Alzheimer’s, which makes the time we get with her now that much more precious. And for this reunion the Alaska side of the family – my brother and his wife, along with his son, daughter-in-law, and their nine (!) children – couldn’t make it down.
Still, there was a lot to celebrate. It’s easy for me to imagine that as I grow older and more geographically distant from my siblings I would grow, well, more distant. It’s not happening, perhaps in measurable chance because of these reunions. In fact, it’s just the opposite; I enjoy them – enjoy, respect, and appreciate them – more than ever these days. Particularly when we’re all spread so far away there is just no substitute for a long week, lazy, relaxed. No agenda, just hanging out cooking, eating, cleaning. Drinking. The funny story there is that although we range from mid-forties to early sixties, we still have to hide our drinking from my mother. (Alcohol doesn’t mix well with her Alzheimer’s so we keep it away from her.)
Time with our several nieces and nephews is lots of fun, too. Jackson was an infant when we first did this in 2001; now he’s got his driver’s license learners permit. Kevin was a young teenager back then and now he’s in a PhD program. Little Dexter wasn’t a gleam in anyone’s eye in 2001 and now he’s a cancer survivor. No one had blue hair then but Mat does now.
What’s it like for a week in the great Northland? Loons calling across the lake at night. Several bald eagles flying overhead, sometimes close enough that you could hear their wings in the wind. A mild case of northern lights one night. The most luminous rainbow any of us have ever seen. Ever. My brother Vic and brother-in-law Lonnie did most of the cooking, ensuring that we would eat really, really well. Fabulous northern Minnesota weather through most of the week.
This once-every-five-year reunion was the proximate cause of our return to the States, but with my mother’s health declining we may have to push the next one up a few years. I will consider myself a lucky man if the next one is as good and comforting as this one was.
From here we’re making a couple more brief stops – Michigan and San Francisco on the mainland, then Hawai’i – before landing in the South Pacific in a couple weeks. So far I’m really enjoying the visit home, but already we’re getting itchy to start exploring new parts of the world.