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What I Really Know About Family Get-Togethers: Through the Years

The AARP Bulletin’s What I Really Know column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit short personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Below, reader Doris Markland of Norfolk, Neb., shares what she really knows about family get-togethers.

At 83, I’ve lived through generations of family reunions. As a child, I remember my mother rising early on hot summer Sundays to make potato salad, coleslaw and apple pie. She’d put her fried chicken and baked beans in casserole dishes and wrap them in layers of newspaper to keep warm. At the park, we children roamed the grounds, swung on swings, fell off the slide, skinned our knees. The men threw horseshoes, played ball, swapped jokes. We ate on wood tables covered with checkered tablecloths until we were overstuffed. While the mothers cleaned up, we’d exchange family stories. Fathers talked farm and business before snoozing under the trees. We kids wandered off to explore and compete—and to learn a lot from our cousins.

Years later, when the family had scattered to different states, we’d come back to our home territory and check into a nice motel with a pool and a private dining room. Times were better for all of us—siblings and cousins born in the ’20s, and our children, born in the ’50s. We wore nice clothes and talked about our careers, played Monopoly and Skip-Bo, smoked cigarettes, drank Cokes and cocktails. The kids swam—and learned a lot from their cousins.

Decades later, our parents gone, my husband and I became the patriarch and matriarch. The kids, grandkids and great-grandkids spent the holidays at our house. We were into big numbers, just with the immediate family. Last year, we tried something new; our children reserved a big beach house in Florida for Thanksgiving, insisting we fly rather than drive. They drove in SUVs, with their kids and their kids’ kids. Far from home, so relaxed, we exchanged photos and movies, talked about the positive experiences in our lives. We shared cooking and cleanups, went for long walks along the shore, talked about our diets. No one smoked. We played games, teased the kids, laughed. The young ones giggled—and learned a lot from their cousins.

Family reunions keep us whole and centered. No one but your own people will tell you when your slip is showing or you need a breath mint. They’ll also tell you you’re doing great and your kids are cute (even if they aren’t). After an afternoon or a few days together, we will have talked everything out, leaving with hugs and promises for the next year.


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