Independence Day is only a couple of days away. Aside from celebrating a momentous time in the history of the United States, the Fourth of July is a traditional day many Americans gather for family togetherness and picnics. We like to go to someplace special to enjoy the holiday. To picnic in the park is a way to create pleasant memories.
The summertime, in general, is when many extended families have family reunions. This practice seems to be losing favor for more than a few reasons. The main reason being distance. We must travel or expect people to travel a long ways just to attend an outdoor meal. That same distance has also resulted in lack of familiarity with one another.
We’re also a busy society. It’s hard to tear ourselves away from daily routines and obligations. Taking a break from our daily lives in order to spend a few hours with people whose only common factor is bloodline is not appealing to most folks these days.
I remember the last time my maternal family had a family reunion. It happened over a dozen years ago at one of the picnic shelter cabins at Ta-Ha-Zouka Park here in Norfolk, Nebraska. When I was a kid, the Weideman family reunions were a regular feature of our lifestyle. City parks in Northeast Nebraska and Southeast South Dakota were the usual venues. The matriarchs and patriarchs of the various branches of the family usually attended.
It was a time to hobnob with our ancestors and cousins. These were always potluck picnics. Families contributed their specialty casseroles, cold salads, and desserts. All of the food was prepared from scratch. Knowing that my great-grandma, and grandma made some of the food was especially comforting. The adults loved to catch up on family “news” and gossip. The kids used the time to frolic and play. The reunions enabled bonding and re-bonding.
At the last Weideman reunion in Norfolk, my sister and I were the only members of our immediate family who could attend. There were only a few Nebraskans and fewer South Dakotans. There was one young relative who flew in from San Jose, California. We chatted for about half-an-hour. I don’t remember which branch of the family he represented. While it was nice to participate in the reunion, the spark of connection was absent. It felt more obligatory than celebratory. As a side-note, most of the food wasn’t home-made. It was purchased from the deli-department of a supermarket.
Meantime, on the maternal branch of the paternal side of the family. The Anderson clan usually held a large annual picnic at Bressler Park in Wayne, Nebraska. These were boisterous Scandinavian affairs that contrasted with the sedate German family reunions. The fact that I have more close cousins and second-cousins on dad’s side of the family helped in the fun department. Eventually, the family spread out across North America and the Anderson reunions petered out. I think the last one of note happened in 1978.
Regarding the paternal branch of the paternal side of my family, The Johnsons held semi-regular reunions at Johnson Park in Norfolk. Because, why not Johnson Park? These were my favorite childhood gatherings because the cousins with Anderson roots and those with Johnson roots were there. Also, many of dad’s cousins were in my age group, so there were cousins and second-cousins in a happy-go-lucky mix. Unfortunately, the Johnson reunions ended in the late 1960s. The only times we get together these days is at funerals and weddings–mostly funerals.
This year, we’re all dealing with the pandemic. There will be no extended family picnics for us. However, the fond memories of family reunions of the past will help make the Fourth of July special again.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes wildlife expert and presenter on “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom”, Jim Fowler. “…The other thing is quality of life; if you have a place where you can go and have a picnic with your family, it doesn’t matter if it’s a recession or not, you can include that in your quality of life.”