Family reunions are high on my "things-I'm-grateful-for" list.
We are finding that our reunions work best with a schedule that allows for some freedom.
We want our children to know our family stories and eventually pass them on to future generations.
I hold in my hand a photograph from a Bellah family reunion in 1985. We are a prolific group. Dick and Renna Bellah had five children, and I am one of 14 grandchildren who produced some 33 great-grandchildren.
The familiar faces bring a smile to my face; this family enjoys being together. The volume of noise created by our animated conversations and frequent laughter is equaled only by the volume of food we prepare and consume (picture your best church covered-dish dinner and multiply by two).
The reunion picture also prompts bittersweet thoughts. For today's photograph would show some gaps. Uncles J.C., Tom, and Barney (I miss seeing Barney at the dessert bar) have died. Cousin Jaycene is gone too (a beautiful and talented mother of four tragically lost to cancer at 36). LeeAnn and Jan also are no longer with us (divorce is sometimes unpreventable, but we still feel the loss).
Family reunions are high on my "things-I'm-grateful-for" list. That's one reason why this 1985 photo is important. For this reunion marked the revival of a tradition that had ended with the death of Renna Bellah in 1973. Without her initiative, the rest of us had let regular times with those we love slip through our fingers. Not any more.
Today this family's reunions have taken on a new level of fun and meaningfulness as we welcome a new generation to the clan (Dick and Renna now have great-great-grandchildren). In case you, too, are planning to revive this important tradition, following are some things the Bellah family is doing that might work for you.
Set regular times
Our family is finding that one, we can't get everyone together every year, and two, most of us have other commitments for the traditional Christmastime reunion. So now we meet every two years during the first part of June.
Planning is the key to a successful reunion. We try to start sending letters and making motel reservations at least a full year before the event. Usually we are able to divide the work load among several relatives so no one has to do it all.
Create a flexible schedule
We are finding that our reunions work best with a schedule that allows for some freedom. We spread our activities over a weekend and schedule only evening events for the whole group. Daily itineraries are left to individual families.
Plan for fun and meaningfulness
Fun and meaningfulness are not mutually exclusive terms for this family. We can enjoy both at the same time. We do, however, plan times when the older generation can talk in the hearing of everyone else. We want our children to know our family stories and eventually pass them on to future generations.
I include this final word for those of us who tend to obsess about details (you know the type, the ones who start washing dishes before everyone has finished dessert). The purpose of a family reunion is not merely to meet, but to enjoy. So if the kids get their clothes dirty playing with new-found cousins, or an intimate talk with a distant aunt makes you late to dinner, relax and enjoy. This is what you came for.
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