Mixing It Up: Reunion

My husband's father is the oldest of seven children, who faithfully gather with all of their families every few years at a pre-determined destination. There are t-shirts with the family name, year and location. There are card games in the social room until the wee hours of the morning. There is an infamous talent show, with performances consisting of singing, dancing, and comedy. There is a professional photo taken of the entire group totaling seventy or more people. There are shared meals in a large dining hall, a softball game, and field trips to local places of interest.

I envied these reunions of my husband's family. Family reunions in my own family are few and far between, with never more than a dozen or so people. We are a family of immigrants and children of immigrants, who suffer from geographic dispersion -- distant and different, migratory paths. I have relatives on four different continents and in several countries from Sweden to Australia. Unlike my husband's family who convene every three years, we consider ourselves lucky if can manage getting just a few of us together in a decade.

Over the holidays, though, we did have our own version of a reunion. Eighteen of us, including a few from Australia, convened at my parents' house. It had been fifteen years since I had been with that many family members at once. And for what we lacked in proximity, we certainly made up with in priority -- we forewent the comfort and privacy of a hotel, and instead stayed in one house. We sacrificed sleep -- hanging out well past midnight and waking up soon after dawn -- to lengthen our days, and double our face time. We rarely turned on the television. We cut out naps so the kids had plenty of time to play and go on outings together. We drank caffeine from morning until night and carried on several conversations at once. We watched old family movies of trips to India, when we were all twenty years younger, and marveled over how much time had passed, and how far, literally and figuratively, we had all come.

We are a family of immigrants, and children of immigrants. The story of our family will never be about group barbecues, gatherings to watch Monday night football, or impromptu bingo tournaments. We will never be able to spontaneously ask, "Hey, do you want to meet for coffee?" In fact, we can't pick up the phone and call one another without accounting for the time difference at the receiving end. Our reunions will not look and feel the same as other family reunions do. They will be frantically thrown together, haphazard events where we enjoy one another immensely, yet pine away for those who couldn't make it. They will consist of recaps of missed weddings and births, and a variety of foreign accents. We will laugh about painfully long layovers in foreign cities, permanently lost baggage, and missed developmental milestones. Our meetings will be rare yet laced with a touch of anxiety -- fraught with the pressure of catching up full speed before another gulf of several years separates us.

The day after Christmas, the eighteen of us commemorated our gathering by taking professional photos. There are big group pictures, and individual family pictures, grandchildren pictures, and cousin pictures. Each family went home with an entire album.

While we stood in the bright lights in front of a white background, repeatedly positioned and repositioned, the moment felt surreal and bittersweet. It's highly unlikely that this exact same group of people will ever convene again. We are getting older, and more settled, and more tied down by jobs and children. It's hard to find the block of time one needs to travel to the other side of the world.

I really, really miss my family. The stretches between our goodbyes are far too long. But this time I think I am equipped to handle the next gap between our meetings. I have email addresses, Skype, and Facebook. (The internet is our virtual rendezvous.) And this time, I have a plan. I'm hoping in a few years (we're shooting for 2011), I'll take my turn, and make that trip around the world with my own children to see the rest of our family. And though we might not be able to replicate the same group of people, perhaps we'll get close enough. Or if we're lucky, perhaps there'll be even more of us.

Until then I have these great memories from the holidays, of the wonderful people who make up my family. And a photo album. And next time? Maybe I'll even make a t-shirt.

column added on 2009-01-18 :: ::

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