Family reunions are not only a chance to visit long lost leaves on the family tree; they are also a good benchmark of how far way you've branched. I spent the day at a gathering of relatives from my maternal side of the tree. To call it a reunion is a stretch (as the missus keeps reminding me) - it's held every year. The tradition started long before I was born. It was a gathering of my maternal grandfather's siblings, of which there were eleven. Back in the sixties, they would get together for a camping weekend, hold a cribbage tournament, drink too much, play a round of golf, have a campfire and give out goofy prizes and jokingly insult each other, having a generally good time. With the passage of time and most of the brothers and sisters, it has morphed into this annual gathering of the cousins.
The duties of hosting the event are passed around, too. It has become an Alberta thing, held somewhere in the southern half of my home province (thank goodness). Prior to the event, making your way there (never mind organizing it) seems very onerous and obligatory. Once I find myself at the event, I end up relaxing and just hanging out, letting my kids run free with the others there.
Every year I find myself at a total loss for names, although I vaguely recall asking the face in front of me for their name last time we saw each other, too. Faces that seem most familiar are ones that haven't changed much since my childhood, when we would go for a whole weekend, not the half day it now occupies. The bratty boy cousins and the decidedly cute girl cousins (and the homely ones, too) have all grown to their full size, had a few kids, put on some weight and begun to droop into middle age. Some of their life stories read like bad daytime soap operas: failed marriages, brushes with drug or alchohol abuse, children out of wedlock, bad luck with illness or careers, ... all these details are passed on quietly between family members, out of earshot of the affected party. These shortcomings or afflictions are somehow accepted when we get together, because we are family and family is about supporting and accepting who each of the members are. It's strange that we can do that with people we see once every few years, but somehow, we can and we do.