Monday, July 9, 2012

Family Reunions: A Breakdown

Family reunions absolutely fascinate me.

This past weekend, I attended one in Fredericksburg, Texas. And I think that it was the first time that I paid any attention to the recurring themes.

There's always some kind of set structure for a family reunion; a proper protocol for organizing things. Without fail, a typical annual family reunion has its own tropes that it follows.

1.) The Task

You have to plan these things carefully. Everyone involved in a family reunion has some kind of task.

Some years you might even be treasurer or president, in which case you have to bring money and/or organize the entire affair. If you get saddled with these responsibilities, suicide is NOT an option. But you'll wish for it.

In a few cases, there's the task of bringing the boxes among boxes of family history for people to read. But the task is usually designated for one of your cousins -- usually the one working on at least three masters degrees and a doctorate -- so don't worry about it.

Mostly, the task for an attendee such as yourself would be to bring a dish for the potluck lunch. This entails running to the grocery store at the last minute to buy a veggie platter, only to see a distant cousin doing the exact same thing and buying the very same veggie platter.

2.) Arrival

Since your family reunion is being held in a scenic park, you decide to arrive early and stake your claim on a parking spot.

It takes approximately three years to settle into a family reunion. You have a heavy ice chest in your hands, but you have to stop and talk to every cousin who missed the last ten reunions and decided to show up to this one.

But this is normal. You build upper body strength, and you do your ancestors proud.

3.) Games

It never fails. Each year, your great uncle sees you catching up with your cousins, so he sidles over.

"You don't appear to be doing anything," he says. "I have a task for you."

And with that, you have a shovel in one hand, and you're digging holes for washer pitching. All the while, your uncle is telling you about how he dug every foxhole in the European Theatre of the war with the very same shovel you are using.

But you build upper body strength, and you do your ancestors proud.

Once you are finished and the feeling returns to your hands, you pick up the washers and start pitching a round. But then, the reunion president whistles for everyone's attention, and you have to attend...

4.) The Meeting

Everyone participates. Minutes from last year are read, we get an update about family history, and some distant cousins you don't know sing songs in German.

For the sake of recording things, the president asks important questions about the attendees.

Like, who has been married the shortest amount of time? No, it's not your cousin who had a fantasy wedding two months ago. It's the little old lady and old man who you thought had already been married, but had actually been dragging out their engagement since the Hoover Administration and only got hitched last week.

Who has travelled the furthest? Saudi Arabia used to be the answer that your crazy aunt would give, since her husband worked for Mobil Oil, but now that she's back in the States, the furthest we get is somewhere in Alabama.

Then, when that's over, parliamentary procedure takes place.

Your grandmother's cousin has been dutifully fulfilling the office of president for three terms, but he wants to retire already and go back to building death rays in his laboratory, so he calls for an election.

It's like a papal election: no one actually wants to be president. Naturally, this means that your crazy ex-Saudi Arabian aunt gets nominated by a cousin as payback for nominating her son about seven years ago. Everyone quickly says "aye," with no oppositions, because everyone wants to...

5.) Eat

Never in your life have you seen so many veggie platters.

6.) Photographs

When everyone finishes catching up over lunch and dessert, it's customary procedure to take photographs.

So, everyone gets out their cameras and asks Granny and Grampy to pose with each other. Since they've been together almost 65 years, they are the quinessential older couple in love, and everyone adores them for it.

Then, there's every permutation of posing:

  • Granny and Grampy with their kids.
  • Granny and Grampy with only the boy kids.
  • Granny and Grampy with only the girl kids.
  • Granny and Grampy with the grandkids.
  • Granny and Grampy with only the boy grandkids.
  • Granny and Grampy with only the girl grandkids.
  • Granny and Grampy with everyone, one at a time, individually.
  • Granny and Grampy with one kid and his family.
  • Granny and Grampy with ANOTHER kid and her family.
  • And so on.

Eventually, you dispense with Granny and Grampy. But wait! It's not over.

  • All the kids by themselves.
  • All the grandkids by themselves.
  • All the kids and grandkids.
  • All the kids with cousins.
  • All the grandkids and cousins' kids.
  • All the kids, grandkids, cousins, cousins' kids.
  • The cousins with Granny and Grampy, because they missed out.
  • And so on, ad infinititum.

If you're lucky, you'll be the one behind the camera taking the pictures. But you are never lucky, and you will have to pose for precisely 23,547 photographs within the span of fifteen minutes.

7.) The Weather

Typically, the weather during a family reunion is HOT, because you have decided to hold it in the middle of summer during the All-Star Break, because A.) No one actually cares about the All-Star Game, despite Bud Selig's big changes a few years ago, and B.) All the kiddos are out of school.

However, on occasion, it will rain the one year you forget to bring your swimsuit. And when it rains, it will rain at the very end of your reunion, when your father and his brother-in-law have run out of small talk, and can't leave because they don't want to get wet, and have resorted to food fights in order to stave off annoyment with each other.

Hilariously, if you decide to wait out the storm under the awning, then the wind WILL blow the rain under the awning, and you'll get wet anyway.

If it does rain, then you can bet your bottom dollar that it'll extend...

8.) The Long Goodbye

It's the reverse of when you arrived. You've packed up everything, you're ready to go, and you have to say goodbye to everyone.

Normally, this won't take long. "Goodbye, nice to see you, hope to see you next year." And so on.

But then there's the five cousins that you didn't get around to talking to during the rest of the reunion. Meaning that your "goodbye" is extended by another half hour while you catch up with them.

So you're ready to leave, and you go to gather up your parents...

...who are busy showing sonogram pictures of your sister's baby to everyone within a three-generational radius on the family tree.

When you DO leave, you resolve to come a day early next year, to catch up with everyone sooner. A year later, you don't.

Bonus trope!

9.) Leftovers

Everyone else ate all the cobbler. You get to take three veggie platters back home with you.