A Family Affair

I’m quite sure I’ve attended plenty of social gatherings that have fueled MORE anxiety within me than the five-generation brand of reunion my husband’s family hosts each June, only I can think of none at the moment. In a word, said get-together is a behemoth-sized affair during which minutes are read, motions are made, budgetary concerns are discussed and officers are elected. Yes, elected—ostensibly, over three-bean salad and barbecued chicken. It sounds absurd. I know; especially if you hail from a small clan like mine—one that would be hard-pressed to polish off the deviled eggs and blueberry pie. Never mind come to a consensus on anything.

However my husband’s crew (to include his seven aunts and uncles and more first, second, third and fourth cousins than I can readily wrap my mind around) is a different story altogether—one that features in excess of 30 picnic tables, a monstrosity of a salad bar lined with buckets and buckets of ice and a table that houses sinful quantities of steamed foods. And let us not forget the grill that is roughly the size of a well-nourished water buffalo and the hydraulic lift called upon to hoist the beast at will. That said, his family views the whole let’s-get-together-and-have-a-picnic seriously.

As one might expect, fliers are mailed out months in advance of the occasion, urging everyone’s participation and a supply of pertinent updates so that the database (yes, the database) can accurately reflect any changes that may have taken place in a year’s time. Needless to say, the aforementioned lineage can, indeed, be graphically represented with a roots-trunk-and-branches sort of family tree—as long as it’s a sequoia.

Confession: I dread my husband’s family reunions because, of course, I am a social misfit who has great difficulty interacting with throngs of people—people I cannot remember to save myself. Nor can I recall who is related to whom, from whence they came and of what they speak. Translation: I struggle to interpret much of the convoluted speech patterns thick Pennsylvania Dutch that pervades the airspace beneath our larger-than-life-sized pavilion. Granted, the event described above smacks of a small convention in a large tree-lined field, one that is perhaps capable of unnerving many a dutiful wife with kids in tow—especially one who is fairly preoccupied with the notion of keeping her brood out of poison ivy patches and away from the cussed cornfield that is likely teeming with ticks. But I digress.

That said, I’ve learned to embrace the experience by dividing it into three basic stages, each of which lasts for an undetermined, yet finite, period of time. Initially, I clamber out of our Jeep-turned-oasis and make my way to the celebrated pavilion, mindful of the wretched plants and blood-sucking vermin that collectively seek to ruin my day. I then receive a warm welcome from swarms of people who converge upon me like a small, yet suffocating, army. I can only guess that this is what a panic-stricken amnesiac must feel like, surrounded by a sea of friendly faces, not one of which is readily recognizable. Lord only knows why they tolerate a lout like me.

My husband, being the gregarious creature that he is, immediately begins to mix and mingle with one and all, taking great pains to re-introduce me to everyone I ought to know but have sadly forgotten. I, of course, smile and nod, resisting the overwhelming desire to whip out a big, fat marker and scrawl everyone’s name on his or her brow. Heaven help me if there’s a quiz.

After the swell recedes I relax a bit, reveling in the knowledge that EXACTLY NO ONE within my husband’s entire family mistook me for the first wife. For that alone, I love them dearly. True to my less-than-gregarious/socially-inept self, I then attempt to fade into the woodwork by finding a table, filling my kids’ plates and hoping like crazy they didn’t stuff themselves silly with snacks en route to this feast to end all feasts. My charges and I then toss a Frisbee around in the field that encircles the picnic area, because it would be decidedly gauche to graze ALL damn day.

Once we’ve become thoroughly exhausted (and rightly retreat to the lemonade-infused refuge of the pavilion), that is the point at which I usually stumble across someone I actually know. Not surprisingly, I barnacle-ize myself to said buoy-like individual, refusing to let him or her leave my side until we’ve talked about practically everything from the Boston Red Sox to the brownies that were slightly addictive. Eventually, though, the crowd begins to disperse, wending their way through the grassy field—dishes and Frisbees in hand, smiles and hugs all around.

I can only hope I continue to be a part of such a wonderful (albeit, freakishly large) family—one that really knows how to host a reunion, 80 years and counting.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (hoping to guess the weight of next year’s watermelon). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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