I have always envied families who plan large reunions and all get together at the same time. Our family mostly did that for weddings and funerals, and not even then, because so many lived too far away to come, and the expense of traveling was too much. But this past weekend we had a reunion of sorts. Not everyone could come. We lost quite a few family members, my parents, my aunts and uncles who live on in our memories and were there in spirit. But this weekend, six of my cousins came in from Florida, and stayed with another or our cousins who lives here. None of us ever expected it to happen. Everyone has a busy schedule with work, doctor’s appointments, illnesses and poor health. But somehow everyone cleared their schedule, changed their plans and we were all together for a few days. It took us back to our childhood and to some wonderful memories of days gone by. Once we were all children playing, laughing and thinking we would never grow old. Now we all have children of our own who, after hearing stories about their family members, are now meeting, spending time together and, getting to know each other.
When I was a teenager, I used to spend my summers in Long Island with my cousins, who had five children. They welcomed me out there and I looked forward to going throughout the school year. I loved getting away from the city and enjoyed the peace of the suburbs. Mostly, I loved the fact that my cousins had young children and babies, two of which were born during the years I stayed out there with them. I loved being able to take care of the babies. I had a second family and they treated me like their daughter. My parents would come out to see me every weekend and my mother brought bags of groceries with each visit. When their family moved to Florida in December of 1973, I was devastated. I was in my second year of college at the time. They moved away because times were tough here and it was hard to get work and support a large family. My cousin thought he would have a better chance of providing for his family down there. I understood that intellectually, but emotionally I was suffering a great loss. But, I was able to spend the next couple of summers in Florida with them, and that helped ease the blow.
It was my cousin, four of her children and a granddaughter that came up this past weekend. We went out there on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. As I walked in the door on Friday, desserts in hand, I was greeted by one of my cousins as he called me by my mother’s name. “Hi Aunt Jennie!” He had been planning this from the night before to get a reaction out of me, and he did!
It was a whirlwind of past memories, food, laughter, food, good natured teasing, more food, hugs and kisses, and food. I discovered that I have turned into my mother, a lovable character, that I swore would never happen. I can’t deny I am a lot more like her than I ever thought I could be. We talked about the “family gene” the bad gene that many of us have, including our children; and that some of our children managed to escape because of our spouses. It’s a gene that makes you short tempered, demanding, controlling, a little OCD, somewhat snarky and critical and more. We are all very much aware of this dominant gene, as so many of us have it to one degree or another and display the same behaviors. We even argue about who has more of the gene than others. No one wants to admit to having the most, but no one can deny it’s part of them either. But, as we talked over old times and teased each other, little things that were said proved what we already knew, most of us possess this dominant gene. And, anytime someone said something that reflected the “gene,” one of my cousins would yell out “ZING.” I can’t even count how many “zings” came out over the weekend. But each time we heard it, we would all break out in laughter because we knew where that comment originated, from the dreaded gene.
I don’t know if other families talk about their genes the way we do, but we blame everything on that gene. If we snap or lash out at someone, it’s because of the gene. Irritability and an out of proportion anger comes from that gene. Poor coping skills can be traced to the “gene.” And we understand each other, because we have all felt the wave of the gene come over us. It’s undeniable. It’s out of our control. We all hate it, but we are victims of heredity. What can we do? We have to just hope it gets watered down with future generations, until it becomes extinct.
You know what else is undeniable, besides that damn “gene,” is the love we all have for each other. Two thousand miles and years of not seeing each other has not changed any of us or the way we feel about each other. We came together this weekend as though we had never spent a minute apart. It was as if time stood still. Sure we were all older and had gone through many difficult and joyous life experiences. But emotionally, our family bonds were as strong as ever. It makes me happy and sad at the same time. I was happy to see everyone, but I lament over all the time we have lost because of distance. How many more family reunions could we have had? Who knows. Maybe not so many, with kids off to college, with work and each of us having to deal with so many of our own problems. Maybe we wouldn’t have been able to get together very much anyway. I’ll just be happy with this visit and hope that next year we can all do it again.