Monday, June 28, 2010

Cousin Reunion

My Mom came from a fairly large family. My grandparents were working class folks. Like many other families of that era, they migrated from the Midwest to the West over a number of years. They started out as farmers, fell on hard times, and kept moving west to find jobs to supplement their meager farming subsistence. The births of their children spanned about two decades.

The structure of Mom’s family ensured that I would have lots of cousins. In fact, there are nearly four dozen of us. Our births span four decades. I think that I have met most of my cousins at least once during my lifetime. But Mom and her siblings spread themselves around the West. And their kids have spread themselves all over the country. So I can’t be certain that I’ve met each and every cousin; although, I’ve heard Mom talk about all of them.

There are only a few of my Mom’s generation left alive. One of my cousins passed away at a young age, but the rest of us are still alive. One of my older cousins noted that the oldest of us is suffering from a terminal illness. Another has what may be a terminal illness. He thought that maybe it was time to gather our generation to reminisce and get to know each other.

After more than a year of planning, we held our first ever family cousin’s reunion this past weekend. Only the children and grandchildren of my grandparents were invited to attend, along with their spouses. It was felt that if later generations were invited, we’d miss out on opportunities to spend quality time with our fellow cousins. I know that my children were grateful for this arrangement, since spending a weekend hanging out with extended family members they hardly know isn’t their idea of fun.

Some gathered for events on Friday evening. We had an all-day picnic with lovely weather conditions on Saturday. About two-thirds of the gang attended. We ate, socialized, took pictures, and enjoyed each others’ company.

On Saturday evening, most of that crew gathered for a formal banquet at a nice setting. One representative from the family of each of my grandparents’ children spent a few minutes telling what is unique about their family clan. Some stayed for Sunday morning worship events.

While most of those that attended our reunion came from the broader Intermountain West region, we had cousins from both coasts and many points in between. It was interesting to see the diversity among the group that attended, but the bonds that tie us together were readily apparent as well. It was a rather momentous event.

There was some talk about doing something like this again in the future, but who knows whether that will ever come together? Some of my oldest cousins are great grandparents themselves. Most are grandparents. We’re all busy with our own clans.

Several of my cousins did a lot of work to make the reunion a success. One cousin put together a handout that gives contact information for all of us and shows where each of us falls in the succession of births. Another cousin gathered biographical sketches of each cousin and compiled them into a book.

Yet another cousin made name badges that were very useful. Many years ago, my Mom and her siblings had a rare family portrait taken. My cousin extracted the images from that photo and imposed them on the badges. I and my siblings (and our spouses) got a badge with Mom’s name and picture on it, emblazoned with a number showing her order in the birth timeline. Alongside my name was my number in the birth timeline of all members of my generation. These badges were immensely helpful, especially when encountering a cousin I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. Some of us have changed quite a bit over time.

I felt that meal management was handled well. Everyone was on their own for most meals. The picnic was “bring your own food.” The only meal that was jointly supplied was the Saturday evening dinner. One cousin gathered payment for this event several weeks in advance. Since it was a nice meal at an elegant venue, it was not cheap. A few that attended other events opted out of that dinner.

The meal actually cost a couple of dollars less than the charge. The extra amount helped defray other expenses, such as handouts and badges. There were no other frills, so the cost of putting on the event was limited. Several cousins did a lot of volunteer work organizing, gathering money and info, and putting together books, badges and handouts.

All in all, I’d have to say that our cousin reunion was a great success. An event like this is a worthy activity for any expanding (and aging) family clan to consider.

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