So the highly anticipated family reunion weekend is over L I wait for this event every year and it always goes by too fast. Prior to getting married this was often the only vacation my immediate family had taken so it was a big deal in more ways than one.
I remember when I was a little girl my brother and I got new sneakers, we got a few new outfits (maybe), and I oftentimes got a new dress for our annual family banquet. And the family reunion usually started Thursday evening when we left. You see every year my extended NJ family would charter a bus (I think once we had 2) and drive as a group to wherever we were going. This required lots of snacks, comfy clothes, and stuff to keep everybody occupied during the drive. I have an Aunt who brings a crockpot on every reunion I think one year she even bought a rice cooker and a griddle- yea she is off the hook but my uncle is very picky about his food so she makes sure he has something to eat and if anybody wanted something to eat they knew where to go get it. She would pack up all that stuff along with her luggage, hair, and grandchildren and it would be on! Things like this make the reunions even more memorable.
Here’s how it goes: There is a four year rotation, every year a host state from one of the most family populated states plans and coordinates the reunion. So every four years you end up back in the same sate. They take care of the weekends’ events starting with a Friday night welcome/registration. Then on Saturday we may have a family bbq along with some sightseeing/ activities. On Sunday morning we may or may not have a worship service and then that evening we have our annual banquet. Monday morning we have family breakfast and a wrap-up meeting followed by lots of “I’ll miss you’s”, sometimes crying, and bids of safe travels.
While the planned events are fun I believe that sometimes the most memories are made when you least expect it. For some reason my family congregates in the hotel lobby. I sometimes think the hotel staff and other guests are a bit overwhelmed because they see a whole bunch of people in the lobby all wearing the same shirt and cutting up something crazy. We normally have a hospitality suite for the whole weekend but no matter what we always end up in the lobby. I think it’s because it’s easier to see whose coming and going and you kind of ‘keep up’ with everybody in the family that way. For instance if someone is making a run to McDonald's- you can just ask the whole lobby who wants something and when you get back you don’t have to search for people to give them their food. I think this is also the older folks way of keeping tabs on the teenagers and somewhat knowing where they are and what they are doing.
Here’s how it started (sort of- the abridged version): Two brothers and a sister married two sisters and a brother. (Although it goes way further back (and around) than that I always start from there ‘cause it makes everyone’s eyebrows furrow… you can relax your eyebrows now!) One set of those pair had 17 kids (they had no TV, internet, or extracurricular activities back then) and that’s where my lineage picks up- my grandma was one of the 17 children. She and my grandfather had 3 children one of which is my dad and now I’m bringing one into this family-palooza! When my husband and I began the serious and exclusive part of our relationship I had to make him a guide with names, pictures, and who belonged to whom- okay I’m kidding but we did joke about how he would need it when I began to introduce my NJ family to him. So in short we have double cousins, a lot of people, and lots of love.
So back to NJ- we would charter a bus because it makes traveling a lot easier and cost effective. For example in today’s economy to fly from NJ to Atlanta cost over $200 per plane ticket which amounts to $800 for a family of four. If we have a 55 passenger bus at $5,000 that amounts to $90 per seat and $360 for a family of four. Many people would prefer the $400 savings. We would leave at a time that would coincide with check in time at the hotel accounting for restroom/stretching breaks (which were really smoke breaks cause we had a bathroom on the bus) and we always stopped for breakfast at a “local” restaurant. I say local because there are places like Shoney’s that wasn’t necessarily in our final destination state but we don’t have it in NJ and one of my aunts loved this restaurant so we ate there. So if we were going to Atlanta we would leave about 6 pm on Thursday evening. Thursday during the day was spent preparing for our excursions. Our moms/aunts/grandmas would cook fried chicken. Apparently fried chicken travels very well and you can eat it at any temperature- hot, cold, warm, whatever. We also had pound cake- this travels very well too. Coolers were filled with water, soda, and juice- and there was always a snack bag. When we got to be teenagers CD’s were very popular and we were banned to the back of the bus because some cousin always had a portable CD player and they parents/aunts/uncles/grandparents/older cousins did not want to hear our music. We carried blankets and pillows because you were going to fall asleep during that ride. Playing cards were a must although I will never ever know how they managed to play cards using a cooler in the middle of the aisle and sitting side-by-side. Whoever was the last one awake during the ride always took pictures of everyone else with their mouths open and snoring so be prepared- cause it’s going to happen no matter how mad you get when you see the picture after the fact. Oftentimes the host state would count on our bus for travel during the weekend as well. Whenever we went off site from the hotel we had our own mode of transportation so that always made it better for them.
While the older folk hung out in the lobby the younger folk like to hang out at the pool. The older cousins would incessantly and mercilessly dunk the younger ones and they always went back for more. The girls had to use a lot of caution though because we could not mess up our freshly done hair before the banquet or else you would be in some very serious trouble- for real. In recent years it’s also become important (probably just for me) that we have internet in the rooms (preferably free). While you don’t really have the time or desire to be online- I feel the need to check in on my facebook games (and now my blog!) just for good measure. At least once per year someone’s room gets hotel security called on them. This is actually a very embarrassing fact- but guaranteed it’s the room with the rowdy teenagers/young adults in it. Their parents are usually in the lobby or if it’s a young adult it’s someone who is old enough to have their own room but too young (or just don’t care) to make everyone act right. I remember one year we stayed at a hotel airport where pilots and crew were staying as well. It wasn’t necessarily the fact that we were doing something ‘wrong’ it was more of the airline crew wanted to be rested enough to operate an aircraft the next day.
Each year the host state chooses a theme and a color scheme. We get T-shirts made that bears that information to wear on Saturday. I used to have every t-shirt from every reunion that I’ve attended but I am sure during my “move-out” to college some got thrown away. I do, however, have several cousins that has all of their t-shirts and wears them during the family reunion weekend. I have another cousin who had hers made into a quilt with each t-shirt having its own square. I actually like that. Next year since we are the host state- I am going to take the t-shirt design and have it put on an onesie for the baby (if the baby is still wearing onesies although I doubt it). This year I got my t-shirt in an XL and will likely not be able to wear it again except to sleep in. I have become a stickler for sticking to the theme at the banquet. 2 years ago the banquet theme was a 70’s dance party and I didn’t dress up in 70’s gear. When I saw how nice it was for everyone who participated I vowed to NEVER deviate from the theme again. One year the theme for Friday was a pajama jam. This was more of a cost saving measure than anything. The food packages provided by the hotels can get expensive so we decided to do breakfast foods which is a little less expensive and to make it now seems too weird to eat breakfast at 7pm we made it a pajama party with prizes for best slippers, best pajamas, and some other category I can’t remember. NJ is the next host state so I can’t spill the beans for what we are doing next year- but it’s going to be fun. Majority of people wear the weekends’ colors for during the banquet. As soon as I get home I am going into my archive to show you how nice this looks. We have had to recycle colors because there are but so many in the spectrum but we get creative with color combinations and things to do- you’ll see. The family reunion along with my wedding sparks my creativity and I LOVE helping to plan these events. I’ve even considered becoming a professional event planner but I despise headaches and I know there will be a client who wants a New Year’s Eve wedding- and working on holidays is one of the reasons I quit working in the medical field in the first place. I’ve also set my sights on hospitality and restaurant management. I
think know I could build a resort complex that caters to the needs of family reunions and corporations, schools, whatever could also use it as a conference/retreat site too. Once I successfully managed the first one in northern NJ, I would slowly start my expansion projects at several NJ locations then branch out to major metropolitan areas then reel it back in to not so major cities to provide a variety of settings. Problem is I feel like I am at the point in my life where my focus is building my family and not working 24/7 to make the Trump Empire look like the game of ‘LIFE’.
Since I’ve used this entire post to explain about my families’ yearly reunion - I’ll save what actually happened this year for tomorrow.