…Who’d give the world to stop the clock, and turn back the hands of time.
— Merle Haggard
Everyone has family, right? It’s a thread that ties you to another person or group of people that you don’t even necessarily know, have possibly never even met…but…they’re family! It means somewhere along the way someone you’re related to, is the same someone they’re related to, and that connects you.
That’s all you need sometimes. That single thread may bring people from all over together for fun, in times of need, in times of sorrow, to rejoice and to reune.
Recently I had the great fortune to attend our first-ever Family Reunion in the small town where I grew up. Many family members, this would be my mother’s side, live there still. Others live within an hour or two by car.
Then as with many families, a lot of the descendants have spread out. We’ve spread throughout the province of Nova Scotia, across the country of Canada, as well as into the United States. And at least one branch has been tracked to Wales in the UK.
Our weekend event that took place at the beginning of August 2014 has taken several years of planning by four interested, committed and passionate family members living there in Nova Scotia. They have gotten together and worked on things, as well as much of the work they’ve each done on their own.
They managed to really fill in a lot of our history, even going back to before the families immigrated to Canada, from far-off places such as Finland and France. They’ve traced the journeys of our relatives as they came to the new world. Then they traced their settling in parts of Nova Scotia, where they met, married and started families.
I’ve always loved the idea of a Family Reunion complete with color-coded t-shirts, games, door prizes and raffles. I have friends who partake in this type of gathering every summer, another whose family has one every four years like clockwork.
We have never had an official gathering of any sort.
This was very exciting. My mother was one of the four on the Reunion Committee. She has been putting much of her time and energy into genealogy and the collecting of a current “family member data base” for these last few years, as have the other three committee members.
I know how much she’s enjoyed this, how many times she lost hours and hours to her searching, how excited she’s been about this weekend. I worried she may get to the point where she was completely overwhelmed by it all. All the millions of details that they hammered out to make it all happen.
But…although I’m certain she was quite drained and exhausted by the end…I know too that she loved every minute of the coming together of her kin. And I know that she had hoped some members, who hadn’t responded, or who were “Maybes”, would indeed be surprise shows, but even her disappointment didn’t get her too down.
We all missed everyone who couldn’t make it, and wished we could magically have them appear. It was delightful to have people arrive from all over North America. A good sized crew of our Ontario family drove down, as well as me & my husband driving up from Virginia. And others flew in from Florida, Colorado, Illinois and Oregon.
Our Family Tree branches began, for the sake of our reunion, with the five children of my great-great-grandparents. There was a wonderful and thoughtful presentation of the genealogy that our Committee has uncovered on the second night.
It was not until this display of our familial information that many people learned that one of the five “branches” did not have any lineage at all because that sibling, to my great-grandfather and the other three to whom were being represented at our gathering, died only one year after marrying late at the ripe old age of thirty-five.
He left behind his widow, but no children from his brief union. And I’m sure for many people it was news that he’d not survived a horrible accident while working at the local train station. It is actually quite a shocking and terribly sad story that would have been all over the local news.
The other four siblings all married and had children. Only one child of one of the five siblings is still with us and she came down from Cornwall, Ontario with several of her children, a couple of their spouses, as well as one of her grandsons and his family! She was our Queen of the reunion and she wore a sash over her “red t-shirt” in our group photo.
So four generations of our family came together…and it was awesome.
Now maybe at first your memories of home
Won’t resemble mine at all
But there’s one thing I know we all have in common
And that’s the God given gift to recall
— Merle Haggard
Our Queen waited until the committee members finished their genealogy presentation, and then she stood up and gifted us with stories about her father, the man who was the reason she was there. The man who was the reason many of us were there. And she told us stories from her childhood.
Her husband also stood and talked about meeting her father for the first time and getting to know him, his wife and family. We laughed and laughed, some eyes got misted, tears withheld, as far as I saw. It was very moving though.
Another cousin from the “yellow t-shirt” line also stood and recalled stories from his childhood, he’d grown up elsewhere but he had great memories of visits and fishing trips to the area. And, well, as it turned out, my father, who’d largely grown up in the Halifax area, had actually gone to high school for a bit with this cousin’s wife. Sometimes it really does seem like a small world.
So, we did have those color-coded t-shirts that I’d only ever heard about. Each of our four family lines had a color; blue, purple, yellow and red. We did the commemorative group photo for posterity. What a keepsake!
Red was the largest group, and unfortunately no blues were present, but there were more than fifty people in our photo. I wish more members were in it, as I found out later a cousin wasn’t there yet, he was helping out with another cousin’s dog. And a couple others, also cousins, were not in town by the time it was taken.
I wished both my boys were there, meeting everyone, enjoying the great time and having their sweet faces in our group shot, but they couldn’t make it this year. And I know some others experienced those same pangs for similar reasons.
Also, we did have a type of game after our “Opening Ceremony”, there were two fifty-fifty draws, and a lot of tickets were sold on the wonderful door-prizes. The second night included a little sing-along, as I can assure you many of this family are very gifted musicians and singers. I mean gifted like they can make a living at it, or they have in the past, or they are in bands right now for just the love of it. It was so memorable.
There was a walk about town to see some important places where long-gone family members lived and worked. Some story boards were set up replete with copies of old photos and the Family Tree for each of the family lines. Some very old and sentimental items were displayed for us to see, too. It was so interesting.
There were two guided cemetery visits at the gravesites of those from whom we’ve descended. It was really poignant to see family walking through the cemetery together in groups, stopping to take a moment of remembrance, or to exchange a story or some information, at the graves.
On Sunday morning many of the family joined each other to attend Mass before the day’s events got going.
We broke for meals the first two days, many people went to local spots by design to eat and be together. It was lovely. And at the end of the third day’s events, the shortest day, we were all together for a meal of corn or seafood chowder, rolls and desserts. After which the children drew tickets and some really great prizes were given out to the lucky winners!
Money raised from the draws will go towards a memorial stone for several of the relatives who have been in unmarked graves for close to a century. I know the committee was thrilled to announce that most of the funds were raised during our reunion, and only a small portion is left to go still.
I know family isn’t like this in every circumstance. Sometimes family are the people you choose to have in your life. Whatever family is to each of us they are undeniably important.
Family is not just a word. It’s who you are, where you came from and where you will always belong.
— Abhishek Tiwari
What are my lasting feelings about our Family Reunion? It was fantastic.
Was there a downside, well I don’t think I’d call it a downside per se…I want to be content with being able to come together with over fifty people that I’m related to, in a myriad of ways…but I just wish I could have had more one-on-one time with each of them!
It seems to be a running theme for me, never enough time. *Sigh* But also, I’m quite shy, always have been. Our small family of four was my norm. My sister and I were the only grandkids on my father’s side for about twenty-five years; no first cousins while we were growing up. The first cousins on my mother’s side, the ones in this family, they all lived away.
Life is complicated, and distance makes it harder to get to know your kinfolk. Family is important to me and having a reunion is such a blessing. See, I don’t know everyone on this side of my family, and I didn’t know everyone at our weekend. And several others I haven’t had actual contact with since I was a kid.
But I would love to get to know them all! I hope we have more reunions ahead of us. I hope that as I see more and more of us connect on the social media website Facebook, that we get to know each other, even at a physical distance.
I really enjoyed our Family Reunion. I love to come home to Nova Scotia. I have many great memories from my childhood. I’m so thankful to my family for being my family. And to those four members who worked so hard to make this event a realization, cheers to you all!!!
If you and your family are thinking about having a reunion I have this to say to you, “What are you waiting for? Get going! Even if it’s simply a big picnic or barbeque…do it!”
No really. You may have never thought to use that famous Mark Twain quote in relation (ha ha) to your family,
“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
But…you can, and there’s still time to discover your own family…today!
Maybe your dad didn’t play no guitar
But I know that there was somethin’ he did
That just makes your old heart just well up and sad
When you relive your life as a kid
Sing a family song, oh, sing a family song
When mom and me sang harmony, little sister hummed
Sing a family song, oh, sing a family song
When dad would get the old guitar down and we’d sing
a family song
— Raina K Morton August 19 2014