Northwoods Journal: July 15, 2022

Up north where summer is cool (except when it’s 100 degrees F.).

We are having a family reunion in, roughly, two weeks. This time we number around 45 individuals from the east coast, the west coast and in between. They are coming from Alaska, and Florida, from Washington, Georgia, Michigan and North Carolina. By plane and by car. The meeting place is Hayward, WI and thankfully that is close to the middle, however it is also over two hours from the nearest airport. Everyone flying in has to shuttle, rent a car, or find someone to give a ride. Travel arrangements are getting wildly complex.

Family reunions are somewhat about food, since we all need to eat. But it’s not that simple. Everyone has favorite meals and food traditions that we like to recreate. Like most families, we love grilling outdoors, pizza, good coffee for breakfast and cinnamon rolls. We love popcorn and ice cream. We love a meal out at an interesting restaurant. We have kids who only eat one food. We have adults on special diets. Food arrangements are getting complex.

We love to sit around and talk, and for some of us that is the most physically active we can be. We have others who would add a silly game, a movie night, or a campfire to their talk environment. There are some of us who have to float the river for four hours or it’s not a real reunion. There are some who have to be on wheels, or boats doing something potentially dangerous. And all of us care about sharing worthwhile, memorable experiences with each other. And although I have never felt that boredom is a fatal condition, I would prefer that no one remember our time together as BORING. It’s getting complex.

The next couple of weeks this reunion is going to be on my mind pretty regularly. My four brothers and I, along with Mom, are the linch pins of the event and are talking, calling each other, and figuring out all these complexities. I appreciate how it draws us together, joining our particular skills, taxing our creativity. It’s work, but good work. It’s going to make some interesting journal entries and I hope I have time to write them.

I love that our complex family cares enough about these periodic reunions to consider planning, spending for them and coming to them. I know it probably will not always be possible. Our families are getting larger and developing groups within groups and that will change the when, the who and the where for our future get-togethers. That is okay, because no matter the size of the gathering, we are teaching the tradition to the next generation. We teach cooperation. We teach sacrifice. We teach commitment. We teach fun. We teach family.

All photos are from past reunions. This one in 2018.

Do you have family reunions? If so, do you look forward to them? Are there special traditions or ways of handling complex arrangements that you can share?

Talking about My Brothers

The interesting thing that happened today, in addition to getting my 10,000 steps

was a phone conversation with my cousin who loves to study and talk with others about relationships. I had to think about how to express what she loves to do, and I’m not sure I’ve got it just right. She wants to learn what it takes to have good relationships with other people in order to love well. She and her husband have helped others through Marriage Encounter workshops, and she is also the person who comes to any family event armed with questions to spark discussions. She likes hearing what others have to say. And don’t we all feel good when someone wants to hear us?

Today’s question worth thinking about was “what does it mean to be a good sibling?” I have four brothers, and I would call all of them good. It was an interesting exercise to define and talk about what “good” meant.

We are not above wearing cheesy reunion T-shirts for the sake of family togetherness.

Although we Smiths grew up together, we have gone our separate ways, lived our very different lives, in different parts of the country. We all have families of our own. Because we are talking about siblings, not friends or business associates or any other connection, making family of origin a priority has to be part of the definition. I love that my brothers, from time to time, have all taken the initiative to connect with each other, with parents and with me. We visit each other and make it a priority to be at family reunions and landmark events. We don’t stalk each other. We don’t demand to know every detail of each other’s lives, but when there is something to talk about, we are pretty sure we can find a family member who will take the time to be a good listener. We want to help each other when there is a crisis.

My Dad died a few years ago, and I love the way my brothers have taken care of Mom since then, each in their own special way. My youngest brother’s wife died this year and there we all were, wanting to share the loss and grieve together. One of my daughters had a pandemic wedding this fall and once again, family showed up to help and witness the special event.

Because we have met often over the years, our children know each other and have a special regard for family as well. They try to make sure that no one gets left out of the “cousin club”. I am so proud of all my nieces and nephews for their efforts to stay connected even as they have started their own families and gotten very busy.

Proud of the way the next generation of cousins has stepped up to honor family.

My brothers and their families are all interesting people and we have a common history. Those things should be more than enough reasons to want to know each other, to initiate and pursue connection. We aren’t doing it perfectly but we are learning as we go. It’s fun.

I would wish that everyone could have the blessing of good relationships between siblings, or other family members. I know sometimes it isn’t the case because living as family is a complex, and often messy business. I am glad today that I took time to think about how I can be a good sibling to my brothers. It is a topic worth much thought, just sayin’.

Lake a Day Challenge: Spider Lake

A spider is probably not anyone’s favorite image to attach to a memory or a place, but when you grow up calling a place Spider Lake, you eventually quit thinking about real spiders and just think about the lake.  This lake is really a chain of lakes, four to be exact, connected by short rivers.  For many years one of my cousins has owned the Spider Lake Golf Club and Resort and it was only recently I learned that it is actually located on Clear Lake in the Spider Lake chain.  Big Spider (ugh!), Little Spider and North Lake make up the other three.

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Me and Spider Lake in rustic setting

My visit this summer was prompted in part by a reunion of my cousin’s family, as well as my own. This was the day we met at Spider Lake Golf Club for a wonderful dinner cooked on the grill and lots of family fellowship.  Cousins from as far away as Alaska and Florida (me) got reacquainted with each other, and fed mosquitoes. It seems the mosquitoes are a force to be reckoned with everywhere near the water or woods in Wisconsin. The young people hunted frogs, played catch and got underfoot. The rest of us visited and ate.  It’s kind of a standard theme among us. Always have food.

One of the most interesting activities at our gathering was making an African Praise Poem about mom.  Mom is one of three surviving siblings in her family of seven and a favorite among all the cousins.  After dinner we “poets” and mom talked together about the important events of mom’s life and the memories we had surrounding those times. There were tears. All these recollections were recorded and will be arranged, poetically and mysteriously, in the form of the African Praise Poem. We’ll all get to see it when daughter Esther puts the finishing touches on it. We asked mom how it felt to be the subject of an interactive poem like this and she admitted that it felt a little like being at her own memorial service, but not a bad thing overall.

I think Spider Lake is known for being a good fishing lake, and there are resorts and cabins available there still. It was a beautiful day, and a beautiful lake.

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Poet and photographerfor this shoot, my daughter Esther

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Possibly the oldest, my Uncle Wendell (with two l’s) and the youngest, Hazel Erikson.

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Frog hunting

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Family, food, fun.