Families may get together on the joyous occasion of a wedding or the sad one of a memorial service. Other times they might organize a reunion — choose a date, location, accommodation — and then encourage everyone to attend. Our family has held reunions in 1990, 1997, 2000 and 2009, with participants coming from four provinces. We’re about to hold another one in Parksville BC in July. Thirty of us, representing three generations, will join in the fun.
The idea of holding a family reunion began with the matriarch and patriarch of my family. They planned to bring their children and grandchildren to Clear Lake MB — the site of several family vacations in the ’50s and ’60s — to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary on August 16, 1987. Dad’s sudden death eight months before meant the end of that summer gathering, but Mom kept the idea alive. She became the driving force behind the first reunion in 1990, divided between Toronto and Lennoxville QC. In addition to her five children and their spouses, the number of grandchildren in attendance increased over the years, from six to 11. By 2009 at Sun Peaks BC, four great-grandchildren appeared at a reunion for the first time; ten will attend this next one.
Successful reunions are about shared activities, in our case golf, swimming, canoeing, white water rafting, tennis, horseback riding, and communal dinners. Participants still talk, for example, about the canoe trip that went amok on the Massawippi River. The resort owner charged us to replace a badly damaged canoe, which Glen and I inherited to repair and use. About another reunion we remember sitting around a campfire at night playing Trivial Pursuit in teams. We likely don’t agree on the week’s overall winners, but it doesn’t matter. We enjoyed burning the midnight wood together.
Reunions depend on a shared family past but to continue they must be about more than siblings growing up in the same household. Everyone must like, not just love, one another. And at some point the torch must be passed to another generation who in the name of fun — as well as family — becomes the organizers. Just as I took over from Mom for our gathering in 2009, several grandchildren contributed to planning our next one on Vancouver Island.
We know being active trumps being reflective. Yes, a reunion provides ample opportunity to recall the past, but it can also present a minefield of disagreements. Suggesting I write a post about our reunions, my brother Tim asked me to say “siblings sometimes behave as in the parable of the blind men who, touching different parts of an elephant, argued about its being: it is like a rope, like a huge wall, like a solid pipe and so on. We remember significant family events from considerably different perspectives. After all, seven children separated in age by anywhere from one to 13 years interpret situations differently — at the time and on recollection. I’ve grown to realize that each of our memories contains some truth. Rather than argue like the blind men, this Sunset Year brother will strive to be a fine role model to Sunrise Year children.”
We will bring a positive past to what has become a McPhail tradition: the Family Reunion. •
P.S. Does your family hold reunions? Do you have stories or lessons to share? Please add your comments below.