Family reunions can be hazardous to your health

July 23, 2013

Ah yes, the family reunion, always considered a summer classic. The reunions are supposed to be like those soda commercials on television. They’re depicted as everyone gathered around the grill without anyone having first aid for burns; instead they are laughing it up and chowing down. The kids are swinging over a lake with ropes and not one of them is seen pushing or shoving someone in a blindfold over the cliff. Instead they are clapping and war-whooping. Adults are spreading food on picnic tables whose seats haven’t collapsed under the weight of a relative who has the appetite of a rhino. And there is so much hugging and laughter, it’s hard to believe it’s over a can of soda. I know I have a case of the same brand in my garage and nothing like that happens.

Well, that may be the scenario in your family reunion, and I hope it is, because that image had to come from somewhere. But in our reunion, well, it’s more liked a power summit of would-be world leaders, only they are dressed in shorts, T-shirts and a lot of hairpieces that don’t fit well.

The biggest challenge in more family reunions than you would think (except for people like politicians, who somehow have enormous families that they have to quit their jobs over and spend more time with after a full-page spread of them running around in black socks and garter belts) is the dreaded invitation.

Committing to attend a family reunion is as much a mystery to me as fantasy football. It’s complicated, and not even the Chinese can figure it out, and if it’s anything to do with intelligence they are surely right up there, but then again, they may have their own problems with family reunions. At some point it might be considered a global issue. Anyway, the list of invitees is carefully encoded and deep-sixed in a box lined with metal, much like those impenetrable ones in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. Decisions on who is in and who is out are critical. Well, let’s say there is always an issue at one of these get-togethers. For instance, some relatives have waited years to recount slights, like my aunt who wasn’t invited to a 10th cousin’s wedding; that cousin was twice removed from the third marriage on the fourth stepfather’s side of the family. She hasn’t spoken to them in years, not that she has seen them, since they live in a Buddhist monastery in Nepal, but if she saw them, it would be the silent treatment, which is apparently what they have been studying anyway.

And my mother was very big on remarks a certain person was supposed (but never proven) to have said about something which she could no longer remember but was certain it was an important insult. She could have been the poster child for an Omerta Mafia made man ceremony, if only she didn’t sing like a canary with the least provocation, like the phone ringing. Sometimes there are rumors well ahead of these family reunions and those rumors become cyclical to the point where relatives are afraid to eat the food, especially since the last Salmonella outbreak, and trust me, there is always a Salmonella outbreak after these events, even if it is only in their minds.

No, these family reunions are made for fun and catching up on everyone’s progress with their kids and loved ones. Of course all of that goes with a grain of salt. Success abounds with the smoke from the grill; even if your child is still out on a weekend pass, it’s considered an institution of higher learning sabbatical.

I would still attend a family reunion, especially if it wasn’t my own; just be careful if you ask someone to pass the potato salad.

  • Nancy Katz has a degree in creative writing and is the author of the book, "Notes from the Beach." She has written the column Around Town for the Cape Gazette for twenty years. Her style is satirical and deals with all aspects of living in a resort area on Delmarva.

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