Reunion Recollections

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BANISHING BONNIE THE GOAT: At a family reunion, John's dad's goat, Bonnie, leapt onto the picnic table and helped herself to the goodies.
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CELEBRATING FAMILY HISTORY: This photo shows James "Roe" Monroe (second row, right) and his wife, Ruth (second row, left), with their six children and son-in-law.
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THEME REUNIONS HAVE BECOME TRADITION: This photo was taken the year our reunion theme was the 1960s.
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PLAYFUL GET-TOGETHERS: Foster family reunion in 2007 at Bear Lodge in the Big Horn mountains.
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LET THE COMPETITION BEGIN: At her husband's family reunions, Mary says she looked forward to seeing his aunts compete with one another for the best dish.

For the Heart of the Home section for the July/August issue, we asked readers to share their memories of favorite, unique or unforgettable family reunions.

Cookbooks and Cemetery Tour

My paternal grandparents had 13 children. Many years ago, their eldest son suggested that the 46 grandchildren host a family reunion each year.

The early reunions were held at the home of the hosts, with everyone bringing a covered dish. During World War II, with the rationing of gasoline and tires, the meeting place was changed to a more central location. Over the years, our reunions have been held in many places, eventually being moved from parks to air-conditioned buildings.

In 1937, my uncle hosted a three-day gathering at his cabin near Hutchinson, Kansas. He arranged for a cook shack, which was manned by the Chamber of Commerce cooks, with a big iron dinner bell outside the door. A tent was set up for dining and sleeping. Entertainment included daytime croquet, horseshoe pitching, boating, swimming and fishing, with square dancing in the evenings.

We celebrated our 50th family reunion in 1984 at the ancestral home of our grandparents in Stafford County, Kansas – the same home in which the first reunion was organized in 1933. All but two of my grandparents’ 35 surviving grandchildren attended with their families – some 300 relatives in all. Cookbooks compiled from recipes collected at the previous year’s reunion were available for a small fee, and slides of old family photos were shown. In addition, we toured the nearby cemetery where many of our ancestors are buried.

This year’s reunion will be our 75th, and we are into the sixth generation of my grandparents’ descendants now.

Ruth – Garden City, Kansas

Banishing Bonnie the Goat

My mother came from a tight-knit, God-fearing family of 13 children. Twice a year, every year, Mom’s family got together – once for Christmas and once for a summer cookout.

The summer get-togethers were always held at my parents’ house, because we had a rural playground – a pony, a mule, two dogs, four ducks and numerous chickens. Our animals were a real thrill to my cousins from the big city. We also had a goat – my dad’s goat, Bonnie.

The food, the fun and the family was all great, but thinking about Bonnie warms my heart the most. Bonnie wasn’t a pet, she was Dad’s weed eater.

One year at our summer reunion, Dad brought Bonnie into the backyard and let her roam freely. After everyone was seated at the picnic tables to eat, Bonnie moved from person to person trying to mooch an ear of sweet corn or goodies from the relish tray. That was harmless enough, and nobody seemed to mind, until Bonnie leapt up on the picnic table.

My mother promptly yelled at Dad, and he sprang up in an effort to grab Bonnie.

However, the excitement must have been too much for her, because Dad missed, and Bonnie left a trail of goat pellets down the entire length of the picnic table as she ran back and forth from one end to the other. Needless to say, Bonnie spent the rest of the day with our pony and mule in the pasture.

John – Hilton Head, South Carolina

Internet Reunites Dad’s Family

My mother’s family had a reunion every summer, but my father came from a family of 19 children, who were scattered throughout many states, so getting my dad’s family together for a reunion never happened. However, I did get to know many of them, because it was normal in my early years for relatives to drop in unannounced and stay for several days. My mother never seemed to mind, and we always enjoyed seeing – or meeting – our family members.

After my parents were gone, family gatherings became limited to funerals, and I almost lost touch with my father’s side of the family. Then the magic of the Internet brought some of us together. My maiden name has an unusual spelling, so when I’d search the Internet and find someone with the last name spelled that way, there was a strong chance it was a relative.

About four years ago, my nephew put me in touch with a distant cousin he’d found online. He gave me her name, and we began corresponding by e-mail. It was fascinating to learn that her great-grandfather was one of my father’s 10 brothers. This cousin then put me in touch with her parents, aunts and uncles. I even discovered that one of her aunts, my first cousin once removed, shares my first name and maiden name.

After several e-mails, my family and I were invited to attend my father’s family’s annual reunion. When we met for the first time, we found that we had many family characteristics in common, especially our sense of humor.

The reunion didn’t last long enough, but we continue to keep in touch through e-mail. In fact, about 30 of us now send messages to each other to stay connected. We share photos, stories, prayer requests and a love that has been handed down to us through bloodlines – and modern technology.

Betty – Hartley, Iowa

Let the Competition Begin

Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, as our children were growing up, my husband and I looked forward to the annual family reunions held by his parents, aunts and uncles.

The gatherings took place in the city park on the first Sunday each June, and they began with a potluck dinner at noon. My husband’s aunts were fabulous cooks who enjoyed trying new recipes. They competed with one another to see who could bring the tastiest casserole or the best dessert.

After eating, the older adults would visit while the younger adults joined the children as they played games and explored the park, getting reacquainted with cousins we hadn’t seen for a year.

Fortunately, my husband recorded these events with a movie camera he proudly pro-claimed to have purchased with the money he’d saved when he quit smoking. He joked to everyone that he just couldn’t let those reunion memories go up in smoke. Those silent movies provided great entertainment for our immediate family each Christmas.

With time, the movie tape grew brittle and fragile, so we had the movies transferred to DVDs, which are now a gold mine of family history, a legacy that our grandchildren can enjoy for many years to come. They answer questions for the younger generation about who was who in our family, and they give an interesting view of how hairstyles and clothing fashions have changed through the years.

Mary – Salina, Kansas

Celebrating Family History

The Lovell family reunion was started in 1971, after the last of the previous generation had passed on. Since I enjoy family history, I was elected as historian, a position I have held throughout the years.

For several years, our family met at Crowder State Park near Trenton, Missouri. It was always exciting to watch the children playing and swimming in the lake while getting acquainted with their cousins.

As the older generation began having health problems, we moved the reunions to Jamesport, Missouri, to a park that has a shelter house.

This year’s reunion is a tribute to Great-grandfather Samuel, who was born 200 years ago.

I still enjoy exchanging family history and meeting new relatives each year. I’m 86 now and the oldest living descendant of Great-grandfather Samuel’s youngest son, James, or Roe as he was called.

Lucille – Dittmer, Missouri

Playful Get-Togethers

Planning the first Foster family reunion in 1991 was a great decision.

My father, John Foster, homesteaded in northern Wyoming in 1907. He married my mom, Grace Kennedy, in 1918. Together they raised five children on their 4,000-acre cattle ranch.

Our first reunion was held at my brother Ralph’s ranch south of the homestead. All 60 family members attended. We enjoyed hay rides, riding horses and four-wheelers, playing games, visiting, eating and participating in contests. We had T-shirts made in five different colors, representing the five siblings, with the family tree on them.

The second reunion was held at rodeo time at a ranch in Sheridan. Someone had the idea of making family notebooks, so outlines of ideas for the book were sent out. Each family wrote about their lives and history, and made 35 copies to bring to the reunion. Now, we have a reunion every five years, and each family brings a page of updated happenings to add to our notebooks.

In 2002, our third reunion was held at Meadowlark Lodge and campground in the mountains, where we fished, hiked and visited around a campfire. Our next reunion was at Bear Lodge in the Big Horn mountains.

Each reunion features contests, which are planned by different family members. At most gatherings, everyone brings an unwrapped door prize. Some of the door prizes so far have included a rattlesnake skin, deer horns, sweatshirts from Alaska and necklaces from Hawaii.

Reunions are fun. If you don’t already have them, I hope now you might be inspired to, because reunions are a joyous way to keep in touch with distant relatives.

Helen – Sheridan, Wyoming

Theme Reunions Have Become Tradition

When our seven children grew up, married and left home, we began having a family reunion each year on the last weekend in July. As the men golfed and the women visited, I noticed that the children were restless. I wanted our gatherings to be fun for everyone, so I decided to do something different. I began incorporating a theme into our gatherings.

Saturday morning is spent golfing, visiting and playing, and then everyone goes swimming in the afternoon. In the evening, the theme comes into play. Each family adorns costumes and brings a food item to go along with the theme. Some of our themes have included international, in which each family chose a country to represent; carnival; Western; Dr. Seuss; Elvis Presley and rock-n-roll; the Olympics; and Hawaiian, to name a few.

We buried a time capsule one year, which has been dug up since. We then planted another one, and we have continued with these traditions because they bring special memories.

My husband and I will keep hosting our annual family reunions as long as we’re able. I don’t know if our children will continue the reunions once we’re gone. I think they will in some form, although maybe not to the extent we do now.

Mrs. N. – Pocahontas, Iowa

Heart of the Home theme request

Have you ever spent Christmas away from home? What was it like? Was it just once or was it many times? How and where did you spend the holiday?

Have your children or grandchildren ever missed spending Christmas at home? How and where did they spend it?

Tell us your stories about spending Christmas away from home. Send your letters and good-quality photos (no photocopies please; send SASE for return of photos) by Sept. 9 to CAPPER’S, Heart of the Home department, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265.