In 2009, just a few months before my dad passed away, I was able to fly back to Idaho with my daughter and two of my grandchildren.
It was truly a blessing to be there that July. It was my 50th birthday and my dad's 80th. I also had two cousins who were turning 50 and a brother-in-law who was turning 60. We called it the Decades Party.
It was a long weekend of good food, great company and entertainment. I had tried to explain to my granddaughter, KaeLynn who was 2 1/2 at the time just how big our family was. But is was my dad who explained it best telling her that she had cousins by the dozens.
He did not exaggerate. We have a big family on both sides. Our summers were filled with family reunions, camping and week-long stays by aunts and uncles with their various broods of kids. In the winter time at Thanksgiving, we visited my grandparents in Othello, Washington.
We always had a wonderful visit with my Aunt Betty Jean and Uncle Charles & their 4 children in the summer. They were city kids and thought hauling hay, feeding the livestock and milking cows was great fun. No guest rooms were needed because we slept out on the lawn in the summer. We swam in the afternoons or rode horses to get apples in an abandoned field. At night, we told ghost stories.
One year, my brothers made up a song about our Uncle Charles called "Chug Chug Chug Along Charlie." Being the genial guy that he was, Uncle Charles took it in stride. But my Aunt Betty Jean was not as amused. In revenge, she began a new tradition of her own that year. Before all the goodbyes were said, Aunt Betty Jean put on her brightest red lipstick and kissed one of my brothers.
After the first year of stunned surprise and shock, self preservation kicked in and the boys would run and hide when Aunt Betty Jean put her lipstick on and said, "okay boys, who's the lucky one this year?"
We looked forward to those visits and our ranch seemed to be the stopping place for a multitude of visits by Aunts and Uncles and their families.
We had a cousin Todd who stayed the summers with us. He would get a little to annoying at times and my brothers solution to this little pest was to dump in into the ditch to cool him off. I don't suppose they would allow you to do that these days. But I think that it was a pretty good deterrent.
There were eight siblings in my mom's family, five of which were older and married with children of their own and three younger brothers who still lived at home. Going to Othello was a trip that we all looked forward to.
Looking back, I am not sure how all of us fit into Grandma and Grandpa's house. At the time, there were 23 Grandchildren, the three brothers, and 10 adult children and Grandma and Grandpa. They had a modest house with 2- or three bedrooms and an unfinished basement. They only had one bathroom too and a very small kitchen. Kids slept everywhere depending on their ages. But on Thanksgiving Day, we all sat together at a huge table with plenty of food.
Grandpa had turkeys who roamed the yard and to my small stature, they seemed huge. There was always an annual football game. The older kids had adventures in the haystacks.
My cousin Penny was the youngest of the grandchildren and was as cute as a button. She loved to have the bigger kids pick her up and swing her around. Poor Uncle Les, our youngest uncle happily obliged one day and unfortunately, his grip was not too tight on her ankles but a little too tight on her pants. Penny flew out of her pants and landed on the basement floor. Only two people were not amused by this event, Penny and her mother.
This is just a small sampling of memories that graced our family over the years. More stories will come at a later time.
At the birthday party in 2009, it was our grandchildren who played and got to know each other a little better. KaeLynn's eyes got pretty big as each family arrived to celebrate our event.
All of us will have special memories of that last birthday party. The weather was beautiful and the mountains surrounded us on every side. It made turning 50 a little easier for me because I was able to celebrate it with my two other B's, Brett and Becky. It was the first time that I was able to be there for my Dad's birthday in over 20 years and sadly, it was the last one too.
Our family has been richly blessed with a treasure box of memories. We find that each gathering has become more precious than the previous one. Our hearts have been bruised by loss these past two years with Dad's passing.
However, we are undaunted by the weight of grief and sadness,
because we have been reassured that a greater reunion will take place in the future.
The best reunions here on earth are the joyful ones. Keep the home fires burning with birthdays, weddings, graduations, picnics or holiday celebrations. You may not have a dozen or so cousins to gather like we do, but your joy in being together will be just as precious.