Over the recent holiday weekend my memories wandered back some 50 years to an annual family reunion held each Memorial Day for many years. The reunion was for descendants of Gerrit and Grietje Naber who were my great-great grandparents. They and their four oldest children (including my great-grandmother) immigrated to the U.S. in 1865 from Terschelling, an island in the North Sea off the coast of the Netherlands. They were the first of my ancestors to come to the United States.
Gerrit and Grietje's descendants gathered annually to catch up on family news and enjoy a wonderful potluck picnic dinner.
My family attended several family reunions each year back then and I looked forward to each. There were many good cooks on the branches of our family tree and it was always good to see first-, second- and third-cousins.
For several years one of our families met at Clear Lake. I loved to go swimming in the lake but hated changing into and out of my swim trunks in the family sedan. One of the most awful things an 8-year-old boy can imagine is having a female see his butt or worse.
This reunion eventually moved to the city park in Clarion, where another of my families also held a reunion each year. The park was home to the city's municipal swimming pool which was a real treat for a kid on a hot Sunday afternoon.
Some of my older cousins were smooth operators and one year they chatted up the good-looking blonde lifeguard who sat watch over swimmers in the east end of the pool and learned her name and address. They smugly shared this information with their younger cousins.
Today I can think of only one reason why a 13-year-old boy would feel so privileged to know the name and address of this bronze 18-year-old goddess with whom he had never spoken and with whom he had a zero chance of speaking to in the future. Yep, it was early onset lust.
When I married, the number of family reunions (and potluck picnics) doubled and I enjoyed them all.
Most of our family reunions have died of old age and these days we are down to two each year - my Gelder family and my wife's Grove family.
While catching up and visiting with relatives remains the primary joy of family reunions I will admit that the family potluck dinners rank only a notch behind.
While my wife's family has excellent cooks and there's always more than enough delicious food to eat, my mother's family may be a potential for the Guinness Book of World Records' recognition for both quality and quantity.
Gelder family get-togethers have always been feasts. On Sundays in the 1950s most of my grandparents' 11 living offspring and their families gathered at their acreage several times each summer. Each aunt brought a dish to pass to accompany whatever my grandmother had prepared.
After loading up plates in the kitchen, the men and children ate outdoors. The women ate in the house. There was plenty for seconds and thirds. More if you wanted.
Then around 3 p.m. - tea time at Oma's house - the cake, cookies and sometimes ice cream came out.
This tradition continues at Gelder reunions in the 21st century. Tired of sweating in a screened-in picnic shelter, we now meet in an air conditioned church fellowship hall. It takes three folding banquet tables end-to-end to hold all the meat, salads, veggies and casseroles. Desserts are served from the church kitchen serving counter.
Around 3 p.m. there's a call that ice cream is being served. No one is hungry but most of us enjoy an ice cream cone anyway.
I'm proud of my Gelder family and my wife's Grove family for keeping alive the tradition of annual family reunions. We come from diverse backgrounds and ideologies, but we're family and that overcomes any differences.
"Like branches on a tree," someone said, "our lives may grow in different directions yet our roots remain as one."