Monday, November 23, 2009

The Family Reunion

It's very rare at the age I'm at to hear about someone being unable to make a gig or party because they have a family reunion. A wedding, sure. Another birthday, again, heard of. But what about the family reunion?

Several times over the last couple of years I've been in conversation with various friends and they've casually dropped in a retrospective yarn on their family reunion.

"Ah...hold on, when was this reunion?"

"I told you I was going, it was a couple of months ago now, in Hokitika*"

And this is why family reunions are fairly quiet the outsiders. Being 25 and heading to Hokitika on Labour Weekend with relatives? You'd have to pull a front and feign dread. But on the inside, what a weekend you're about to have!

Usually held in small towns, the family reunion takes up a lot of time for the organiser and or the host. Somewhere along the line a budding genealogist has gotten all excited about some WWII documents that attribute Uncle Ian* to being part of Hitler's downfall* and all of a sudden 6 other cousins exist in Te Puke* and yay! Time to celebrate. You get the core relatives on board- the favourite aunt and uncle and the cousins you've spent your growing up years with, the second cousins that you've long dropped the 'second' from, tell everyone to keep Easter 2011 free, start arranging Grandad's transport and hey presto! A reunion is shaping up.

I had a memory flash this morning of being 11 years old, woken up by my dad at the bach around 4am, handed a t-shirt and told gently to get up and get ready for our roadtrip down to Te Kuiti. For the untrained eye, this t-shirt was merely a plain white one, the size 10 girls version of Dad's XL. But for the family geeks, the back of the t-shirt, emblazoned in bright blue was...a short version of our family tree**. I was more excited about the promise of a pie for breakfast. Steak and cheese at 5.30am. Sweet deal.

Anyway, the folk in Te Kuiti absolutely adored us. We were matching father and daughter AND we were being fashionably informative. It's a bit vague, but I do remember some characters- a couple of the children my age went to my school; bloodline connections- awesome.

At every family gathering, there's the gangly teenage kid wearing all black, the thick as thieves sisters-in-law that married brothers who have ousted another brother*, the cool older boy cousin, the cool older girl cousin, a couple of newborns and finally the great great grandmother everyone fusses around now that the great great grandfather's passed on, left this earth etc.

But when you talk to Grams* you realise she's played her cards right: onto it, full of good yarns and knowledge, perfectly able. There's usually a glint in the eye somewhere that lets you know she knows she's on a cushy number at this family gig. It's merely her ability to hit 90 that's gotten her full privileges such as first to the food table and evading the "HELLO! My name is...." sticker.

What was exciting for me a kid though, before I went through the brief 'that's so uncool' stage before returning to being all about the family, is just listening to people like the great great grandmother. I let everyone else fuss. You learn not only about your own family and the prior generations that contributed to your makeup, but also the area in which they grew up, raised our grandparents and parents. For me (on one side) it's the King Country/Waikato districts. I think what's particularly special about these regions is the richness of a pioneering spirit that is still very much in the air today.
It's not unique to New Zealand, think Otago, the far North, East Cape. We're lucky in New Zealand to still be able to see areas where virgin bush was only cleared recently to develop farms, or see buildings that were the original structures when towns like Piopio (population wise is Piopio a town...?!) were established. It gives you a wider sense of your place (I want to say 'in the world', but it will be reminscent of those cheesy Otago University ads. Flag.) within the family and how you came to be where you are now.

I suppose what's great in this day and age is the use of the net: families have their own websites for posting photos, while it's a bit jock-ish, it does bode well with keeping in touch, and Facebook and Skype as well help the world seem more accessible.
Enjoy your next family reunion...I can't wait for ours!
*not true. Not the names, the events, the locations. None of it.
**very true. So true. It became a pyjama t-shirt very quickly.

1 comment:

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