This past weekend was the 37th family reunion on my maternal side, and I was shocked to see how much our numbers have dwindled over the years. I had to admit my own responsibility to this change: it had been at least 10 years since I’d last attended so I shouldn’t have been surprised at the lack of 30-somethings in attendance. However, I was – and was confronted with a banquet filled with elders and children. So many members of our family who were central to reunion planning had transitioned in recent years, that the committee had gone from 30 to 6 – what would happen to this tradition if we didn’t step up?
I immediately recalled my childhood and the large packet that would arrive every spring announcing where this year’s reunion would take place. I eagerly anticipated the road trips we would take and the family and American history I would soak up on each trip. I thought about the cousins from New York and Detroit that I would kick it with every year, and how much we shared in common in spite of our regional differences. I remembered the feeling of sitting with my grandmother’s cousins and listening to them chat about their childhoods, breaking into roaring laughter at their memories at times, and how priceless those stories were. I had to accept how far removed I’d become from it all, letting work and other events of life get in the way.
There’s nothing like our families, but too often our time together is spent at funerals and weddings only, and not spending time talking about our history and culture. The family reunion is the one event where we can say, “Look at how far we’ve come” and celebrate our collective experience together. Without the reunions, the ties that bind aren’t strong and it’s easy to only spend time with immediate family, never knowing the background and foundation for how things came to be. The reunion traditions are an important part of our history, one that my generations’ lack of participation in showcases just how much the world has changed in the last decade.
This week, I’m starting a Facebook page for my family reunion group, in hopes of getting more people of my generation involved in the planning. We can’t leave it on the elders to take care of everything – at some point we have to pick up the torch and let them rest. I’m looking forward to introducing my son to his family around this nation and elsewhere, and helping him learn the value of attending this annual event. One day, it will be his turn to take the reins and I want to lead him to that place, by setting an example for him to follow – the same way all the generations before have done for me.
Make time to spend time with family today – tomorrow is not promised.