If you don't know [your family's] history, then you don't know anything. You are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree.
~ Michael Chrichton
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FAMILY TIES (AGAIN)
18 July 2004
We attended a real love-in today.
I'm not sure how many family reunions the Scott-Kirkpatrick clan has held, but each has had its own flavor. From the first one, where we were all kind of getting to know each other, to this one, many years later.
My mother is from a family of 10. I have 32 first cousins and lord knows how many in the generation after that (or how many "half cousins" have turned up in the interim--to say nothing of in-laws!).
At that first "reunion" many of us either had never met before, or hadn't seen each other since we were children. It was at a motel in Quincy and one of my cousins got drunk and ended up throwing everyone in the pool, clothes and all.
Several years later, we met again in a big banquet hall. We were older then, and the guy who'd done the tossing wasn't there. It was a nice "getting to know you" dinner, and introduced the work my cousin Peach had done with the family tree, a project she'd undertaken the year before. One thing I remember from that gathering was meeting this tall guy in the parking lot of the motel. He said "Hi--are we related?" He was my cousin Bruce, a cousin I didn't even know I had. Now, many years later, we greet each other with hugs and get caught up on how our lives have gone in the intervening years.
There was the reunion where we honored the surviving 3 aunts--Marie, then 85, my mother, and Barb, the youngest. Peach had found a copy of a book that Barb had remembered her mother reading to them as children and there was a presentation of that book to the three of them. This was the last reunion Marie attended. She died a couple of years later. Also at this reunion Bruce married his Eileen, at a ceremony presided over by my cousin Shirley.
Then there was the reunion where we "adopted" Uncle Bill into the family. We figured he'd been hanging around for about 50 years as an in-law and probably wasn't going to be going anywhere, so we might as well claim him as "blood." We initiated the idea of having a monarch-for-a-year at that reunion.
The following year, my mother was crowned queen. It took her by surprise, but what really surprised her was that Jeri had flown out from Boston to be here for the coronation.
It was the next year that we crowned my cousin Peach's husband, Bob, master planner, who had made sure that each of the previous events ran like clockwork, that all the spaces were reserved, all the bills were paid, that there was enough food for everyone. Bob was kind of stepping into Uncle Bill's place as the "in-law" who was more a member of the blood family than some of the blood members.
At the 2001 reunion, Bob turned his crown over to my cousin Shirley, oldest of my generation of offspring. There was a huge pageant, tracing the history of the Kirkpatrick family, which was presented that afternoon, and the younger kids learned about their family history by participating in the play. That was a bittersweet reunion because it was then when we were able to see that Aunt Barb's Alzheimers had a firmer hold on her.
We skipped a couple of years. During the previous reunions, our numbers had grown and some people were traveling great distances to be in Olema, the little town where our great grandfather's home still stands, adjacent to the campground where we held the reunions each year. We all had begun to know each other and were starting to get "reunion'ed out." We decided that it would mean more to us if we met every other year instead of every year.
There has been no reunion for two years and this one was also a bittersweet time.
In the intervening years since our last reunion, Cousin Shirley had developed cancer, our "family disease" (second only to alcoholism!). She's just come off chemotherapy and things are looking good for her. thankfully. It was her first big outing since finishing chemo and she wasn't able to last thru the whole day, but getting this family together on a regular basis is such an important thing for her that there is no way she would miss it--besides, she had to be there to turn her crown over to Peach
In the interim, Uncle Bill died and Barb's Alzheimers passed into the "intermediate" phase, where she sometimes recognizes people, sometimes doesn't and she has lived at an Alzheimers facility for some time now. We crowned Peach this year and it was difficult for our cousin Cathy, being there for the first time without either of her parents.
She, like many others who spoke, talked of the difference Peach had made in her life, how much help Peach and Bob had been to both of her parents, and how they were always there for her and her family.
Another tragedy of the intervening years was the sudden death of Miriam, the wife of my...third cousin? second cousin once removed? I dunno...some relative anyway. Miriam had a stroke and did not survive. She left behind her husband and young Patrick. It was good to see that he seems to be doing well.
Peach's kids had worked all year creating a wonderful slide show, showing both the life of their parents but also the life of the reunion, and pictures of all of us growing older through the years. There was lots of laughter and lots of tears.
While we passed the afternoon, there were games. Many years ago, Uncle Bill invented this "washers" game that is kind of like shuffleboard, but without sticks. You toss large washers into the holes in the board. There were several teams competing, gradually reducing down to two teams, the winning team splitting a pot of money collected from all who played. (My mother, the most competitive person in the world, was eliminated early in the competition.)
For the kids there was also a pinata and a scavenger hunt (one item on which was "a slug." The kids hunted long and hard, with flashlights, in the bushes. The winning team came up with this huge, ugly brute.
During the afternoon was the traditional barbecuing of oysters. Everyone waits all year for these delicious fresh oysters. I hate oysters in any way, shape or fashion, so I did not partake, though Walt ate my share.
The afternoon ended with a barbecue, and all of us seated at the long table sharing salads. beans and corn on the cob.
It was a quiet day, by prior reunion standards, but the important thing was the feeling of continuity, of being "connected." Of knowing that we are all family and of discovering that these people are people we have come to care about and to feel family ties with.
One other change from previous years is that the Olema Ranch Campground, where the gatherings have been held, has apparently changed hands and the new management was so unpleasant to deal with (we were told to keep the noise down because someone complained that we woke her up at 4 p.m. in the afternoon!) that the next reunion will be held on property that my cousin Bruce has just purchased in Fort Brag. A longer drive, but it will be private property and we won't have to worry about parking permits and waking fellow campers in the middle of the afternoon.
The thing that is special about these gatherings is the feeling that even though we are losing people from the family, we are at the same time building a solid core that will continue after all of us are gone. I hope we are passing along to our own children a sense of the uniqueness of this group, of the value of the family stories which Peach has so painstakingly assembled, and a realization that even if we don't see each other frequently, we have strong family ties, which is more than a lot of people have.
It's good to be queen
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