Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Family Reunion

Today is the first day of my family reunion, and I'm missing it.  This year an expected forty family members will be in attendance. This may be also be the last reunion a cousin attends, adding to my regrets about not making the trip. 

This is likely to be a disjointed and rambling post...you've been warned.

It all started sometime back in 1967 when Dad's siblings decided to have the first family reunion in Regina, Saskatchewan.  It was a small affair.  Grandpa and Grandma, Mel and Grace Watson, with their six children, four of whom were married, and a handful of toddlers.

Grandma passed away in the early seventies and Grandpa re-married a wonderful British woman we dubbed Nana.  She joined our crazy family, put up with us giving her a bad time about her accent, and she remembered every birthday and anniversary with a card that unfailingly arrived days before the event.

I attribute the closeness of my dad's side of the family to my grandfather.  Back before the Internet and emails -- these days family emails quickly turn to spam, LOL, with dozens of people replying to any given email (heaven help the poor fool who uses their work address) -- everyone would call or write to Grandpa, he in turn would send out lengthy letters every few months, thus keeping everyone up-to-date on everyone else in the family.  And it was dedication, too.  He typed it up on an old manual typewriter, hitting each key hard enough to go through six sheets of rice paper with carbon in between more important than speed.  It was a celebration of sorts when those letters would arrive.

Years passed.  Someone got a bee in their bonnet and decided it was time for another reunion.  So in 1982, everyone packed up and traveled to my aunt and uncle's cabin, with its running up and down the hill water, on Shell Lake in Saskatchewan, Canada.  Our numbers had increased, as they tend to do, and there were now sixteen of us grandchildren, a nice even mix of eight boys and eight girls.  How fourteen adults and sixteen children fit in that small cabin is beyond me, probably a huge slumber party that lasted for a week.  We were grouped in teams, each team responsible for the nightly entertainment, and I remember well the skit my team did.  "I ain't got the money for the rent. Boo hoo, boo hoo."  And my uncle, playing the part of a cow, "forgetting" his line, "Moo, m...ma, moo."  It was decided at this reunion that we would do it again in four years.

The next reunion was at my parents house.  It would be the last one where the parental units could hold "this is our family vacation and you're coming whether you want to or not" over the cousin generation.  It was the last reunion where all of us were together, the reunion before the cousin generation started moving out, getting jobs, getting married, and having kids.  My parents "back forty" looked like a tent city, cooking to feed the army that our family had become with its six bottomless-pits that were my male cousins, teen to early twenties.  Touch football, tossing innocent cousins in the river, sneaking up on a not so innocent uncle with a garbage bag of water while he slept...aww, good times.

The Watson cousins, circa 1986
The Watson siblings, with Grandpa and Nana, circa 1986
A barrage of weddings (and a funeral) came next, postponing the reunions until 1997.  That year we returned to Canada, deciding that Saskatchewan was the more central therefore logical place to hold the reunions, and took over a church camp on Christopher Lake.  We'd lost Grandpa but Nana was there.  Mark was inducted into the "out-laws."  Eight of us cousins had married, or were to be married within months of the reunion, and there were ten (with one on the way) fourth generationers.

The beauty of this reunion was the simple fact that though most of us hadn't seen each other since Grandpa's funeral we came together as though no time had passed.

I missed the 2001 reunion, another return to Christopher Lake.  I was hugely pregnant with Alex and our dog sitter cancelled last minute.  This was the first year that my dad's cousin, Edna Mae, and her husband, Jim, attended.  A bittersweet reunion.  Nana had passed away New Year's day of that year.  Sadly, this year was to be Aunt Dorothy's last reunion.  She succumbed to her battle with breast cancer in November of 2003.

So when the 2006 reunion came around, I was bound and determined to go.  This time another church retreat about an hour north of Saskatoon.  What a difference a few years make!  Fifty-six of seventy-five family members attended.  Zip-lines and bonfires, singing and stories, and no reunion would be complete without Uncle Ron's Ladle Rat Rotten Hut (though he claims to have passed the torch I doubt it will be the same coming from anyone else).   

The Watson siblings, minus one, circa 2006
The Watson clan, circa 2006
I look at the picture above and am amazed.  Every single person in that photo is related by blood or marriage to Mel and Grace Watson.  What a legacy!  With nephew, Ryan, now eighteen, how soon will it be before a fifth generation is added?  Will we even be connected enough by then to still be having reunions?  It feels like the end of an era and that makes me painfully sad.

Somehow, the direction to my sister to take a lot of pictures feels hollow.  She says the reunions recharge her.  She may be right.  We've got one of the craziest, fun-loving, practical-joking, most supportive families on the planet. 

Examples you say?!

How about the time my uncle flew in for one reunion and the family met him at the airport.  Appropriately staged, we girls arrived early and started buzzing around like we were there to see our favorite rock group.  One of the parental units asked for Keith Crocker of -- whatever the name of his company was at the time, LOL, it sounded rock groupish -- to be announced as his plane landed.  Which they did, LOL.  We started screaming like a bunch of crazed [insert your favorite rock band here] fans as he came through the gate.  People started clapping and looking to see who the famous person was.  We got the practical-joke king that day!!

Or my aunt whispering to my dad there was something wrong with the pie my mom had baked.  Dad bent over to smell it only to find his face pushed into the pie!  The piece-de-resistance, when Mom dished it up she gave Dad the piece with his nose and glasses clearly imprinted.

Or my sister and I driving six hours to just to see my cousin's documentary, At My Mother's Breast, during the Vancouver International Film Festival, staying only long enough to eat dinner and see the film before driving home all night to be at work the next day!

Me thinks it is time to plan a trip across Canada, hitting every relative I have from Victoria to Toronto.


marilyn said...

What a poignant recounting of the past decades & reunions!

Thanks, Sherri.

You did a masterful job.

Sherri said...

Thanks Mom.

Can you believe I actually FOUND Ladle Rat Rotten Hut? Though that version has punctuation which I'm sure Uncle Ron said his did not when he received it.

Doug said...

Ladleradrottenhut had neither punctuation nor spaces between the words.

I certainly empathize with your disappointment in not being able to attend this year.

Your written and pictoral account is excellent. Thanks for the memories.


Sherri said...

Thanks Dad.

Maria Zannini said...

How neat that you can all get together every so often.

I'm the only who lives away from the family, so they're always seeing each other.

When I go up to Chicago, then it's a family reunion.

Liz Fichera said...

What a GREAT story! And what great memories! You're very fortunate!

Sherri said...

Maria -- Mark, the boys, and I are the farthest way and on that side of the family, my immediate family are the only Americans. Love getting together with them, actually wish it could happen more often *g*

Sherri said...

Thanks Liz...I think so, too.