All In for the Family Reunion
When you come from a very large (and very Italian) family, there are many traditions. In my family, we have a special soup recipe, a questionably tasteful velvet peacock painting, and of course, our annual family reunion. This year marked the 60th year that we’ve gathered over the Fourth of July weekend to eat, laugh and visit. Some reunions are very large and some are rather small, but all are invited. This year, we had about 50 attendees, which is by no means the record, but still a great turnout.
The location changes depending on which branch of the family is hosting, so this year, my mom and I took a road trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, where the reunion was held. We’ve also had reunions in Florida (always a popular choice), Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Cleveland.
I had an excellent new smoothie recipe, so I made us a breakfast that can travel with us on the road. A tradition in the family is avoiding exact measurements or following recipes just as they’re written, so here’s my “Wake me up!” smoothie recipe: a fistful of baby kale mix, a spoonful of almond butter, two spoonfuls of Greek yogurt, a dollop of honey, about a cup of coconut water, and a handful of ice. Blend it up, and you’ve got energy for hours!
I am decidedly less of a morning person than my Mom, so she took the first shift driving, and I stayed up to chit chat and keep her company. The drive is around 10 hours, but both of us are seasoned road warriors, so it was no problem. When I lived in Wisconsin, I would make the trip to Florida to visit, just me and my dog, and that drive was about 24 hours. The key to a successful road trip is to set yourself up with good snacks and great music and you’ll be there before you know it. I always pack sandwiches so I don’t get stuck needing to eat fast food.
The Friday of the reunion is always a whirlwind of hugs, greetings and very quick life updates before someone new arrives and the process starts all over again. There are a few theories as to the best ways to maximize your Friday evening greeting experience. The Ubers (what we call the matriarchs and patriarchs of the family) tend to set up in a comfortable spot in the common area and allow everyone to come to them. My great Aunt Val is an expert at holding court, and everyone is happy to sit and visit with her.
Another great technique is to say hello to all the family and then form a splinter group for the hour or so before dinner with your siblings, cousins, or anyone else whose life you’re dying to be updated on. Kids under 14 usually try to get in the pool, no matter what time of day it is. I should know, I was one of them for a long time. Whatever your choice, you can guarantee there will be family around, and stories to tell.
Saturday is technically the “reunion” day, but the excitement of seeing everyone on Friday has built it up to be just as important. We had a special treat this year, as my uncle Mark had compiled a detailed family tree, even finding ship manifests and immigration paperwork.
Saturday morning, and we all rise… whenever we feel like it. Breakfast is a “fend for yourself” type of affair, and fortunately, our hotel had a very thorough breakfast spread, even including biscuits and gravy. To be fair, we WERE in North Carolina, so I would have been disappointed if I didn’t get any biscuits and gravy. Traditionally, Saturday daytime is some sort of outdoors activity, typically a softball game. However, once we realized only a couple of people actually brought mitts, most of us decided to spend the day at the pool.
Not to say we’ve gotten lazy as we’ve gotten older, but we can definitely appreciate a relaxing day by the water. With eight first cousins on this side of my family, a day by the pool with card games was the perfect way to catch up (with a healthy amount of competition thrown in).
Since the family is huge, the age ranges of cousins, second cousins, aunts and uncles, great-grand-nephews is all over the place. I can never keep track, so in my mind, everyone outside of my immediate and close family is basically a cousin or an Uber.
As Saturday winds down, we all drift off, some going to bed early to wake up for long drives, some stay up way too late talking and laughing. Since we all know that it may be a year or longer before we see each other again, there’s a wistfulness to Saturday night that strengthens over the evening and into the morning, where we gather in the common area for a last breakfast, and final hugs before we part ways. We all live busy lives, and traveling can be difficult, but we know that if we want to see family, we just have to wait until July and no matter where the reunion is, it always feels like coming home.
I don’t know of too many families as big as mine, and even fewer who work to keep in close contact, but I’m so grateful to have a family full of love and laughter. As we always toast, “to la famiglia!”
— Liz Baranowicz