Last October I started a tradition. I came up with the idea for a family reunion. We’ve had one or two in the past, but this time I wanted to make reunions a regular part of family life, mainly because I no longer live three time zones away and can attend. I had something simple in mind that wouldn’t require balloons, t-shirts, or hotel reservations.
So, I helped organize a reunion and contacted family members in the immediate area. It turned out to be a small group, some twenty people. We ate a meal, shared stories, and took a lot of pictures. No pig roasted on a spit, but then no one really wanted that. As it turns out, we’re a reserved group.
Before leaving, we promised to do it every October, since many of us have birthdays then, which should tell you that we come from a region of the country that’s very cold in January. Or at least our parents did. The commitment to continue the tradition was a big step toward having the kind of relationship we all want. We promised to invite family members who didn’t attend the inaugural event, which may or may not be a subtle message to certain daughters of mine.
It never occurred to me that Gavin Newsom would have a say in the second reunion. Covid has turned our lives upside down, to be sure, but Plan B–holding a second reunion on Zoom–is as appealing as watching another presidential debate. Or should I say listening to an analysis of one? I’m up for an in-person reunion myself, but not everybody shares my attitude toward risk. So I have sent out an appeal for a Zoom reunion on Halloween. It will be perfect: kids in costume, chaos at the front door with trick-or-treaters, and parents drinking. What could go wrong?
I don’t remember family reunions when I was a kid. I don’t think they existed. There would have been no reason. We all lived in the same area, often the same neighborhood, and saw each other regularly. For instance, we ate dinner every Sunday at 2:00 pm at my grandparent’s house. If there were extra people, they’d set up the kids’ table. Afterward, the men would play horseshoes or cards. The women would clear the dishes and prepare cake and coffee. We kids would run around causing trouble. Sometimes, my grandfather would threaten us with his belt, but he was never fast enough to catch us.
Actually, we did have family reunions. They were called funerals. Funny, but I remember them more than the weddings. I think that’s because there were more of them, and we did funerals better than weddings. I’m not sure if that’s an Italian or Catholic thing, maybe both. It certainly says something about how we viewed death.
We also had quasi or extended family reunions via guilds and ethnic clubs. My father, a New York City fireman, belonged to a group that organized Christmas parties, summer barbeques, and softball games. The family of a close friend of mine belonged to the Sons of Norway, and I remember going to events at their lodge. When you entered the building you were greeted by an enormous replica of a Viking longship with a striped mainsail. It didn’t get any cooler than that.
Years later, my own kids grew up at our parish and would go to church events, which included feasts, liturgical celebrations, Lenten meals, processions, devotions, and family rosary every Friday night. After reciting the rosary, the adults would eat and drink merrily. The kids would run around the way I did at my grandparents’ house, although without the monkey business.
So, now Zoom will serve as our funeral, Sons of Norway lodge, and ritual celebration. Why not? I don’t intend to do polling or put people into breakout rooms, although some of them might like that. And family members can come and go as they please. They’ll have to wear pants, though, since I’ll record the session for posterity. I’ll even add a new virtual background, maybe the photo you see from our inaugural reunion (above). After all, it could be the last time when we’re all in the same room.
This just might be the birth of a family tradition.