A few weeks ago Romney Ann, Deandre and I went to an annual family reunion for my maternal grandmother’s side of the family. When I was really little, we would gather on Thanksgiving Day, but now it takes place towards the end of the summer in Lexington, NC at a lake house owned by one of my mom’s cousins.
On the way there, once we get off the interstate, I can always remember doing the name quiz. This is family we only see once a year and I would run down the list to make sure I had everyone’s name right and their relation to each other and to my mother or me. This year the time from the interstate to the house was filled with preparing the kiddos, “A lot of this family you’ve never met, most of them actually, but they all know you and will be very excited to see you. It’s ok if you don’t know who they are and you’re welcome to stick close to me, but just know they love you!”
As you turn onto their gravel driveway the view, the sounds, the smells are all familiar, even the laughter from certain people echoing from the back patio around the house as you’re walking up to the door. Mom always goes in first. There’s BBQ (North Carolina BBQ of course), french fries, hushpuppies, and desserts, including my mom’s AMAZING peach dessert she makes every year for this event. There is usually time in the pool and in the lake. I remember many a trips on the tubes and jetskis, games played in the pool and silly competitions of strength and who can hold their breath the longest with my cousins.
I don’t actually have any first cousins on this side of the family, my mom is an only child, but there were 3 other children born the same year as me – we were creatively named the 89ers – and every year a picture was taken of the 4 of us. They are my mom’s cousin’s kids, so what does that make them? Second cousins? Oh well, I can’t ever remember, regardless, every year we had a blast! Our older cousins would throw us in the pool and try to toss us off floats. We would get yelled at for splashing the adults or getting too rough around the littles coming up behind us. It was always the same – it started a little slow and awkward when we couldn’t really remember each other, but by the end we didn’t want to get out of the pool, and we were asleep before the first turn headed home.
When I was around ten one of my mom’s cousins and her wife adopted a little girl from China. I remember going to visit them soon after they returned from their travels with a new addition to our family. This was really my first introduction to adoption, I guess. I’ve never given it much thought in that context, but it must have been.
Year after year, I would see their daughter at the family reunion. I would get to see how she was growing, what she was interested in, and how she was coming into her own personality. I would throw her in the pool and play with her and the toys on the floor in the house. She would ride on my back or sit in my lap on the boat. Thanks to social media, our ability to keep up with her (and everyone on that side of the family) has greatly improved. She is a strong swimmer and has gone on to swim in college. I’m not saying it was because of the one day a summer I spent with her in the pool, but I’m not above trying to claim some credit.
Well, mainly because of COVID, attending this family reunion a few weeks ago was our first one in a few years. 2019 was the last time we were able to attend, and at that time it was Brandon, 1 year old Romney Ann, and myself. This visit was different, not just because Romney Ann was older and we also have another child, but it was deeper than that. This time, I saw this family reunion through a different lens, through the lens of a parent, grateful for all the stages I went through as a child and teenager. Truly for the first time seeing the gifts of generations and the ties that bind traditions and a familial bond that stretches beyond proximity.
After lunch, I got in the pool a little bit with Romney Ann, but she was drawn to her cousin. This young woman, who I had thrown in the pool when she was RA’s age, this young woman who would ask over and over for the big kids to play with her, she was that big kid now. She was the only one Romney Ann wanted to be around. And I was the mom, sitting on the side of the pool overflowing with gratitude for the older cousins who threw me and for the younger cousins who made me feel like I was the coolest to walk the earth, or at least swim in that pool.
Family is a funny thing. Sometimes we need a refresher on names because we don’t see each other as often as we would like. Sometimes we miss a year or two and it makes it that much harder to come back because you know you’ve missed so much. But when you come back, these patterns and rhythms of generations just fall back into place, like it’s a song you’ve been singing all your life, and a gift you pass on to those after you. The start of the reunion was a little awkward, D and RA were overwhelmed by the number of people and especially the number they didn’t know. It took them a while to warm up and come out of their shell and play a little, but when they did, there was no getting them out of the pool. Tears were shed. And guess what, they were asleep before the first turn headed home.
Rhythms. Traditions. Generations. Family. What a gift.