This weekend, 30 members of my family came from all over the country to Arlington for our 31st family reunion. Many of you will find that pretty amazing, but for our group, it was one of the smallest reunions we have ever had.
My Uncle Glen and Aunt Darlene came up with the idea and in 1982, put their fingers on a map and settled on Carbondale, IL as the town right in the middle of everyone. Since then, the reunion has moved around many times. More times than not, we gathered at the new center point, the happening town of Paducah, KY. The point is, it never mattered where we were, if we had, cards, beer, snacks and each other, we were happy.
My Uncle Glen was killed in a car accident in 1989 and his wife took up the cause. For years, Aunt Darlene planned and executed every family reunion. The successes of which were evident as cousins had to be physically removed from around each other’s necks, tears in their eyes, promising to see each other again next year as the much maligned diaspora happened on Sunday afternoon. Eventually, we decided that everyone should take turns hosting and this year was our year. The first one of the grandkids’ generation to host it, I felt a certain privilege and a ton of pressure not to screw up it. What if it went so badly that no one ever wanted to come to a reunion again? The ghost of my Uncle loomed large. Would I let him down?
The generation before us bears old wounds that still open from time to time, difficult childhoods, scars from things undone and unsaid. Sometimes these reunions have their moments. It’s not all sunshine and roses, like every family, we have our own shit to deal with.
But, I look at my generation of my family. Even though, our generation now has our own kids, some of whom are even in college. We are the kids. We will always be the kids. And we have our own messes to deal with. We are all so different. White, black, Jewish, Christian, well off, struggling, democrats, libertarians, and yes, even Republicans. And yet, there is a love that is palpable. We all understand each other in a way that no one else can. There isn’t a one of my cousins that wouldn’t do anything they could to help any one of us. After my Grandmother died, we even hatched a (possibly drunken) scheme to buy her house. We would all go in together and one of my cousins would maintain the house. And it would be there, blue-green shag carpet, pink and black tiled bathroom and all, as a testament to our family and the memories therein. It was a silly plan, of course. And in the end, the sale sign went up and, most certainly, the pink and black tile came down.
Yet, here we all are. Sitting in the hospitality room of the Crowne Plaza at 11:30 at night, playing cards for money and eating m&m’s as if the future of the company rested on our consumption. And we are smiling and laughing. Telling stories at each other’s expense. More often than not, they go something like this, “Remember the reunion where…?”.
And now, the next generation, our children, have the fever. “When can we have a playdate with Ella, Chloe and Emma Jane?” (who live in Tennessee and Arkansas). “Do you think Zachary can come to visit some time?” (sure, he lives in Wisconsin). “How long until the next Hoffman reunion?” And then the tears as we drove away on Sunday. From me…and the kids. Because there really is nothing like your family.
This morning, Lucas told me that in class everyone talked about what they did over Spring Break and he got to say something that no one else did. “Passover?”, I say (since he’s the only Jewish kid in class). “No, mom. Family Reunion. No one even knew what that was. It was so cool.”
I could feel Uncle Glen smiling. At a time when the rest of us had no idea how important family was, he and Aunt Darlene got it. And they made it happen. They made our family what it is today.
At dinner on Friday night, my mom looked around the table at everyone smiling and laughing and turned to me with tears in her eyes. “When we’re gone, promise me you won’t let this die.” I promise. We all made that promise to Glen and to each other the summer of 1989. We swore it again when the house sold. And we swear it again, every Sunday that the reunion breaks up. “We’ll see you next year.”
And we will. Because we are family. Because we are Hoffmans.
“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.”-Frederick Buechner