August 14, 2009

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Same time next year, we hope

Cynthia DewesThe thing about family reunions is that the older I get the fewer people I recognize at these events. Somehow, my relatives keep getting married and having babies and such, which leads to confusion on all sides.

To my family, it might seem heretical, if not humiliating, to use name tags. I mean, if we can’t recognize our own kin, what does that make us? Ingrates? Strayers from the fold? No, name tags are out.

But I find that if I greet the young folks who are carrying babies around, I get speedy clues as to which aunt or uncle they belong to.

Being well brought up, they will usually announce whose daughter or grandson they are without my asking, no doubt out of respect for my advanced age.

There’s another side to the age thing, too. Most of the younger members know who I am as the second oldest of 42 cousins, which is almost as revered a status as that of my four remaining aunties, aged 85 to 97. I come with the establishment, so to speak, while many of them are relatively new on the scene.

Even though we may not know some of our relatives so well, we seem to keep abreast of family gossip. A sweet, middle-aged cousin whose wife summarily dumped him a couple years ago, to the scandal of all, appears with a new lady friend. We sneakily nudge each other in approval.

A tiny “great” who’s physically challenged is passed affectionately from lap to lap, knowing she is loved by a great number of people she never laid eyes on before. Among the many children on hand, whiners are ignored, mischief is diverted through long practice and family resemblances are remarked upon.

In-laws who used to be the new guys under scrutiny seem to be part of the old guard now. Big families can be overwhelming to the poor husband or wife who just married in. But somehow, they soon become part of us. They can even add new ethnic, racial or religious dimensions to our family experience.

It seems that families produce exactly what is needed for the care and maintenance of the whole group. One cousin has been the family geneaologist for years, spending most of her reunion day cheerfully recording names, dates and countries of origin of new babies, marriages and deaths. Another in-law cousin has been the family’s President-for-Life during what is already a rather long life. He presides over family meetings to decide next year’s host family or to share a great joy or sorrow.

Fried chicken and pickled herring still grace our feast, but now they’re joined by hummus and quesadillas and alfalfa sprouts. We used to think some of this stuff was inedible, but now it’s health food. Time marches on.

We marvel over family first names. My aunts and uncles, almost all Norwegians, included Otto, Olaf, Tholine and Carl. Then we went through a spate of solidly American-sounding names like Ted and Judy and Janet. And now we’ve graduated to Estrelita and Lasse and Joaquin, with several biblical additions like Aaron, Hannah and Noah thrown in.

They say that each of our families is a microcosm of God’s family. Think of the variety in one family such as our own, add in all the others, and you have just one more awesome example of God’s creation lovingly shared with us.

Makes us wonder how that Big Family Reunion in the Sky will be someday, doesn’t it?

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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