Family gatherings bring old and new traditions together

Categorized as 07/12/10 Goshen News column

It’s official. Not only have I hit the proverbial brick wall, I am now one with it. This unfortunate development comes at the conclusion of a whirlwind weekend.

If there’s a stereotype for a classic summer weekend, I think we just lived it. The two key components, of course, are family reunions and Fourth of July celebrations.

First up was the reunion. This particular one happens every three years with the different states taking turns with host duties. This year, it was Hoosiers’ turn, and so from Thursday to Sunday, descendants of Noah and Barbara Yoder converged on the Farmstead Inn in Shipshewana.

As a teenager and young adult, I attended a number of Yoder reunions. We spent time in Holmes County, Ohio, where a lot of the descendants still live, and I got acquainted with many of my father’s extended family. For our boys, however, this was new, and I wondered what they would think about the greater Yoder clan.

There are several things that strike me when I attend these gatherings. There’s a sense of continuity, of security somehow, upon seeing familiar faces that have been there for years. There is a sense of belonging, of having a place in the grander scheme of things, when you connect with your roots.

“No man is an island,” said the English poet, John Donne. Attending a family reunion reinforces that very truth.

You came from somewhere. Countless generations before you lived and died and made their own choices. They married and worked and had babies and laughed and cried. They suffered disappointments and experienced happiness. Who they were and what they did are woven into the fabric of your being. It’s part of what makes you, you.

It’s good to know this. It’s good to be reminded that the world didn’t begin – and it certainly won’t end – with you.

Inevitably, there is a sense of eternity about these gatherings. The family circle keeps changing. Many faces I used to see are no longer there. They have graduated (praise God) and await a grand reunion one glorious day.

Hearing Great-uncle Eli Yoder, one of the two living siblings of my grandpa, playing a spirited number on his harmonica was a treat. This old gentleman, who suffers from heart problems and shortness of breath, played as though he was a mere boy. As I listened, I could see his deceased wife, Great-aunt Ella, in my mind’s eye as clear as day.

As one who remains, I remember my own mortality. I know that one day, I, too, will be “absent from the body, but present with the Lord.” It imparts a feeling of urgency about leaving a godly heritage for the next generation.

There are, thankfully, new faces to meet. There are new people to introduce to the family traditions, those things we do that bind us together and make our tribe different from every other one.

At Yoder reunions, it’s a tradition to hold an auction with items donated solely by family members. The proceeds will help pay expenses for the next one. It’s a tradition to have a talent show with corny skits, magic tricks, songs, and poems. Actual talent is not required. Family membership is.

It’s a tradition to gather in a circle on the final morning to hold hands and sing, “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds” and “God Be With You.” It’s tradition to have a final prayer before we go our separate ways. Finally, it’s a tradition to begin anticipating the next one as you leave.

So what did the boys think? To my great surprise, number two loved it. Meeting extended family from other branches of our tree and exchanging bruises in a crazy game of Spoons just lit him up. He’s hooked, and he’s pushing for us to attend the one in Minnesota in three years. The “littles” trotted around in his wake, swimming and trolling for snacks.

As for the other component of the weekend, the FOJ celebration with the Schrocks was a blast. Literally. Which is why this annual party, hosted by us, now has an official name. We call it “The Kaboom.”

Traditions? Oh, yeah. Oldest nephew drives in, blowing Air-Horn-in-a-Can out his Jeep window to kick things off. Check. Burgers around the fire. Check. Two birthdays celebrated. Check. Women share feelings in between explosions. Check. Men all become 12-year-olds. Check. Fresh-air doughnuts eaten hot from the skillet. Check.

This year, we started a new one. At my suggestion (accompanied by disdainful whiffling from Mr. Schrock), we had our first-ever ceremonial group Lighting of the Sparklers around the fire. Even though he harrumphed that he was “not sparkling on the inside (direct quote),” he sure looked to me like he was having fun.

And that’s what traditions, old and new, are for. They bind us together. They set us apart. They make rich memories that we talk about at – where else? – our reunions.

I hope your holiday was wonderful and that you find time to celebrate your own traditions. I hope you find a little of your own “kaboom.”

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