Making memories at your family reunion

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Every person should have at least one breathless, wide-eyed memory of summer.

Leaping off a sun bleached wooden dock; casting a line into an icy clear Midwestern lake; clinging blindly to an out-of-control paddle boat with the sickening realization that you are heading straight for a monstrously large shoreline poison ivy patch.

OK, maybe that last one is just me?

Family. Until recently, families lived together in tight-knit groups. Nowadays it isn’t uncommon for a family to span the country or even the globe. Nonetheless, we all need that familial connection. That feeling of security and belonging.

Besides which, no one can humble you with memories of your most excruciatingly embarrassing moments quite so deftly as family can.

They knew you when you were a nose picker. When you couldn’t keep up with the big kids. When you put your boots in the oven to dry – and then forgot and baked them until they burst. When you rode the pig.

Clearly, you need to reunite with these people. Edith Wagner, editor of Reunions Magazine, stressed that activities at a reunion take everyone’s interests into consideration.

She notes “that’s what makes a cruise such a great option.” In my family, it is also important to take into consideration that we are not Rockefellers.

Accordingly, our reunions are a tad closer to home and involve barely-there air mattresses (all the comforts of sleeping on the ground but with more effort!), hot dogs, and tents.

Time. As time marches on, the whole family has expanded a bit in the past couple of years. While we all still see each other from time to time, what we don’t do, with any regularity, is get together at the same place and time unless inhaling a turkey or christening someone.

The planning of any gathering is now a task roughly equal in scope to mapping the unexplored nether-regions of the solar system.

This is why our own slapdash reunion came together quite by happy accident.

In theory, we had all agreed on a set date and time to gather at my grandfather’s farm for a yard sale, lest we deprive that bucolic rural region of 1970s house-dress patterns, plastic tumblers, and sinfully ugly afghans.

Only later did we discover that, to a person, we’d rather have our eyes gouged out with hot pokers than have anything to do with a yard sale.

Rule one. Accordingly, we decided to goof off instead. The first rule of any family gathering is to cultivate both a thick skin and a healthy sense of humor.

If you don’t have a good sense of humor you will be eaten. This is because the only thing my family likes better than poking fun at one another is eating.

Everything from to-die-for homemade pastry to an industrial size can of cafeteria grade chocolate pudding will be consumed with equal relish.

I myself had some Cheetos for breakfast, despite the warning that they were dangerously cheesy. It said so it right on the front of the package: DANGEROUSLY CHEESY.

Rule two. Me, I like to live on the edge. Which goes to rule number two which is that family will compel you to do things you wouldn’t otherwise do.

Like discovering the truth that there really is a fine line between fishing, and standing on the shore looking like an idiot. I managed the latter by standing in poison ivy while admiring the lake.

Later I would attempt to steer the paddle boat directly into one as well. Ours was a wild, untamed, almost feral paddle boat and no amount of steering would set it right.

My cousin and I mostly meandered in circles when we weren’t bumping the dock, or the shore (again, helpfully padded with all that nice poison ivy). I also touched a fish and lived to tell about it.

Fire experts. I watched a cousin make fire with an industrial blower, a 50-year-old bag of charcoal, and a strong will to succeed.

His less than boy-scout approach led us to christen him Big Wind Make Fire. This nickname would be repeated ad nauseam throughout the gathering.

Some jokes just never grow old and nicknames are a huge part of family hazing, er … memories. Just ask his sister, Big Chief Makin’ Bacon – so called after her insistence that she could too make breakfast over an open fire (if given four strips of bacon and roughly six hours).

Memories. We also listened to disco by the campfire – which should tell you all you need to know about my upbringing.

We got bug bites and sunburn and ate far too many hot dogs. And we never really did get the hang of that danged boat.

Now some people have told me that if their whole family ever got together, it would probably result in a fistfight.

I, on the other hand, found that if you can get your family together you can make a big mess, a lot of hot dogs, and some really great memories. You can also spend a lot of time standing in poison ivy.

(Kymberly Foster Seabolt recommends that you make some memories today. She welcomes comments c/o kfs@epohi.com; P.O. Box 38, Salem, Ohio 44460; or http://userweb.epohi.com/~kseabolt.)

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Warm, witty and just a wee bit warped, Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a native of Kent, Ohio, who survived childhood exposure to disco and grew up to marry and move to the country. Her column weaves her special brand of humor with poignant, entertaining, and honest portrayals of parenting, marriage, and real life. She currently lives in northeastern Ohio with her husband, two children, two dogs, two cats, and numerous dust bunnies who wish to remain nameless.

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