It always makes me sad when I hear about people who hate going to their family reunions. Because, for me the exact opposite is true.
Ever since I was a little girl, my dad’s family has had the tradition of getting together around my Grandad’s birthday. While he was still alive, it would be a short weekend affair. He and my Grandmother would gather together all seven of their kids, their kid-in-laws, and the ever-increasing group of grandkids in early August.
There would be a cookout with an abundance of food, loads of laughter, and tons of cousin playtime. On Saturday night, all of the grown-ups would head out to a super fancy dinner in St. Louis while all of us kids hung out together and “babysat” each other (read: kept each other alive and tried not to destroy my grandparents’ house). Then, on Sunday morning, we would all go to Mass together at their tiny church. Pew upon pew would be full of Burches while Grandad & Grandmother beamed with pride at all of us singing and praying together.
Those weekends filled my childhood with happy memories and a firm foundation in the love of family. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
Well, my beloved grandparents have long since gone home to heaven, but our family still makes coming together a priority. Every other year, you’ll find us all (well, most of us) descending on some location or another. And it is so, so good.
Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Colorado, Washington, California, and Hawaii. From east to west we came and descended upon the greater St. Louis area at the tail end of July. Three generations of Burches…except now it’s my parents and aunts and uncles who are the grandparents and my children who are the grandkids!
Of the “7 Originals,” as they call themselves, six are remaining. Sadly, we lost my aunt last summer. We remembered her along with all those who left us too soon…her, another aunt, a cousin, and my nephew. But exactly how many people does this family include now? Hmmm…
6 originals + 6 in-laws + 20 grandkids + most of them are married + a whole bunch of us have at least one kid + some of my dad’s cousins even came this time and brought their own families = A WHOLE LOT OF PEOPLE!
You know, the more I think about it, it’s really hard to do that kind of “family math.” The more years that pass, it seems like there are more and more of us. My generation just keeps having babies! Like I said, though, we’ve lost some loved ones along the way; and, of course, there are some who just can’t make the trip. This counting thing, though? I don’t think it’s something my Grandad ever would have considered. If you were there, you were included, you were loved. And really…isn’t that the best kind of math?
I have to give props to my Aunt Paula & Uncle Joe, Aunt Beth & Uncle Roger, and Aunt Teresa & Uncle Denny. They are the ones who still live near the old homestead and truly did a marvelous job of hosting everyone for this summer’s festivities.
I can’t put into words what it meant to me to watch my sons play countless games of corn hole and washers with my cousins and uncles. Or to laugh as kid after kid did flips in the pool, drove power wheels across the lawn, and played big kid vs. little kid games of kickball. My heart soared along with the songs as my musician cousin gave us all a backyard concert. And it swelled to bursting to see everyone truly loving on everyone else.
We went for Jeep rides and watched the sunset. My “little” (ahem…31 year-old) cousin taught my boys about both respect for and proper usage of guns. Greg and Adam went paddle-boarding. Little cousins took over my uncle’s pool table (and, thankfully, didn’t ruin it). And baby after baby was passed around and loved on like they were the best little things ever born.
Tell the Stories & Share the Love
One of my very favorite things about these family gatherings, though, is the story telling. My family is full of yarn-spinners, laugh-getters, and tellers of tales and I adore it! Lots of times, it’s just the same old same old that you’ve heard a million times. But to me, there’s a comfort to be found in that. A building up of our shared history that means just as much to me as it does to my parents’ generation. It keeps memories alive and hearts united.
There were new stories this year, though. The one that sticks out most in my mind is hearing how my dad’s cousin found her birth family. In her 60s, and through the wonders of Ancestry DNA, she now knows her whole story. What a blessing! Not to mention all of the proud parents of little bitties sharing and bragging about all manner of milestones and cuteness.
You know, it’s priceless to me, really, to stand a little back from the group and just take it all in. How precious to see my children be welcomed and accepted and deeply, truly loved by people they hardly ever see. To see them learn what it means that everyone around them is related to them in one way or another and wants only what is good for them. Honestly, there were times when the happiness and love turned to tears and slipped right out of my eyes.
Maybe You CAN Go Home Again
On Sunday morning, we went to the tiny, centuries-old cemetery on the bluffs over Cahokia, Illinois to visit my grandparents. This cemetery is only about half a mile from my grandparents’ house. The same house that my dad and my uncles and grandad literally built with their own hands. And just down the road and around a corner are a bunch more houses that came into being due to their blood, sweat, and tears. And on that hill where my parents will one day be laid to rest, fifty some-odd Burches, ages 9 months to 70-something, gathered to pray and remember.
All of this to say, friends, is that I don’t know if I agree with the sentiment that you can’t go home again. We might not have been able to physically enter the homes we lived in. The town I grew up in has changed immensely in the 20+ years since I left. But what I find time after time is that it’s the people that make the home. As long as we continue to get together and pass the love from generation to generation…that love that was handed down to us from my grandparents and all who came before them…then there will be a home to return to.
And for that, I thank God each and every day.