We went to the reunion more out of obligation than anticipation. I love them, I want to see them, but the timing was bad. Surely the time will never get better and thanks to parental arm twisting we loaded our two kids in our ratty car and drove for ten hours.
I am one of six children, all grown, no two living in the same state as another, we do not get together very often. Not only do we not live near each other but my parents sold the house we all grew up in, the one they spent nearly 25 years inhabiting, and moved to nowhere. Consequentially we have all made home in other places. We don’t live in other places, our homes are in other places. Gathering to nowhere is difficult so we chose the beach of North Carolina. Not all obligations are unpleasant.
The beach house was a geometric dome, the kind of place built by someone with unique taste, but not exactly taste. There were plenty of rooms and showers to house the family of my childhood plus the children of our adulthood. A great room had triangular windows looking toward the ocean and a loft hanging over the top. Half of this main space was a kitchen and long dining table with a fifties style diner booth and stools at the bar off to one side. This little corner included a jukebox radio and a wall hanging of girls in poodle skirts, just in case anyone missed the retro reference. Stairs steep enough to nearly be a ladder led to the very top where a lookout loft had space enough for a hammock and a 360 degree view through small windows. It was deathly hot up there discouraging loiterers and making it the ideal place for a twelve year old boy. There was conveniently a twelve year old boy in the group and he was happy to stay up there.
We, my created family, arrived three days later than the rest and my oldest sister vacated her room on our behalf. I think all were genuinely happy to see us as it was assumed by most, including us, that we would not be able to make it. But we did.
Reunions, like much of real life, are a mix of joy and heavy unpleasantries. These people who have meant the most to me through my youth, the ones who formed or created me, are people I not only love but also like. We do not get to be around each other, sitting around one large table reminiscent of the twelve foot oak table we grew up sitting around, here we lounged around watching masses of little cousins sit around a large table in our place. The little cousins always like these things best. They play and make new friends of loose relations, buddying up on boogie boards or chasing each other up and down the stairs. They are making new memories rather than reliving old ones like the older folk. We. The older ones interact and look back. This is the happy part.
When we start new families we do so with hope and often times a picture in our heads of what we want. Families are made up of people and people will do what they want. Hurt feelings or disagreement are picked up along the way. Some are patched up and some are just passed by. Some issues are easy, like who left their dishes in the sink or how we plan to vote in November. Others are hard, like changed religion or changed spouses. In a family as spread out as ours such issues are easily pushed back till we get together, then there they are, issues.
Issues with children are easy, you correct them, hug them, send them to bed or to time out. Adults, though still one’s child, when no longer children, cannot be dealt with quite the same. Sometimes the only tool from that old bag that still applies is the hug. Our family is good at hugs, the rest of this adult thing still feels new. New is often awkward, but we hug anyways.
I suppose that is why reunions are good. You may not get time to patch everything up, but you have time to hug. You can sit on the deck looking over the beach and talk of old times or touch on the now. You can play in the waves and build sand castles. We don’t have to talk about the awkward things we can play Apples to Apples instead. We do all that because we are family and to us that is not just permanent but potentially eternal. Eternal is a long time.
It takes a lot of hugs to get there.