Family gatherings are the best. Well, maybe I’m only looking at my experiences through rose-colored glasses, because the last time I ever really went to a large family gathering was before I was teenager. The world has changed a lot even in my lifetime to make the topic of family gatherings go from something people are fond of, to something families across the US dread.
Most of my ‘family gathering’ stories take place with my dad’s side of the family over some holiday, usually Thanksgiving, Christmas, or even summer vacation. I have so many relatives I didn’t even know existed. In fact, the only reason why I know what a second cousin or a cousin once removed is, is because of family gatherings with my dad’s side of the family. A second cousin would be someone in your generation from a parent’s cousin. A cousin once, twice, etc. removed is a cousin from a different generation than yours.
If that’s confusing, imagine my confusion when I met third cousins, or step-first cousins once removed. Aunts or uncles-in-law were indistinguishable from family friends or family members. There I would be, in a mass of people from all generations and backgrounds, who look nothing remotely like me, yet were all somehow linked. The common ancestor was usually a great-grandparent.
As someone who has always been shy, these gatherings were always overwhelming. Especially so when someone would come up to me and say, “I haven’t seen you since you were this big!”, gesturing a size or height with their hands, continuing with “Don’t you remember your aunt Mary??!?”. No, I don’t. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing you before in my life. I would stay silent as my dad would chatter away with the relative. It was extremely awkward and I always felt guilty for not knowing or remembering someone who had seen me before. I was only 7, but still felt guilty for not remembering someone who I met when I was 2, or even a newborn. I didn’t know it at the time, but it’s a common thing people say when seeing a young child again.
Suffice it to say, these family gatherings were huge. It was always impressive to see who I was related to, what their mannerisms were and how they spoke as everyone lives in different parts of the US. Some of my cousins were behind the scenes in the movie industry, making the magic happen by running the huge cameras on trolleys. Some of them struck it rich and owned large businesses and could invest in many properties, some even had mansions. In fact, I only met a part of my distant family because they happened to own a humongous wedding venue. It was a gigantic white mansion overlooking acres of green grass and my part of the family were invited because they had extra room that they wanted to fill out for a wedding. I was awestruck. My immediate family is small, and quite humble.
A common game we would play as a family, in groups, was 5 Card Stud Poker. It was a favorite of our grandparents, and a way for us to get to know each other better. We usually didn’t bet, but if we did, we would play for candy like M&M’s, or nuts like cashews. The older children would help the younger children, and sometimes we would even play in groups of two against each other. Kids would also play with other toys if we were at someone’s home, or we would find something else to do at the venue and maybe even dance poorly. Joking and teasing was as common as simply talking.
There was also always good food. Everything would stop when dinner was served and it was time to eat. There would be hors-d’oeuvres, and the adults would often drink while chatting, but once it was time for the meal everything stopped and everyone would sit around the table. Kids were often called to set the table, and sometimes people would fight over who would help to clean the dishes as you wouldn’t want to make the host do extra work!
rose-colored glasses (idiom) – used to describe an idea or a way of looking at a situation as being better or more positive than it really is
dread (verb) – to anticipate something with fear, worry or a strong dislike
chatter away (phrasal verb) – to talk quickly and continuously, especially about things unimportant
suffice it to say (idiom) – used to suggest that although you could say more, what you do say will be enough to explain what you mean
humongous (adjective) – extremely large
awestruck (adjective) – feeling very impressed by something