The 4th of July: a snapshot day of “What it is to be an American”. It’s the collective holiday of our independence as a nation founded on freedom. That freedom to live and love is celebrated in summer’s warmth (or record heat as this year) as families and communities across this land of yours and mine gathered for parades, picnics, fireworks and a whole American pie’s worth of traditions.
These family ties that bind are woven into the fabric of our history. The more our society becomes diverse, mobile, disconnected, the greater the need to reinforce the bond between generations.
To mention a Family Reunion as a means to that end evokes mixed reactions. Some people fight with their families as if they were the Hatfields & McCoys. But other close-knit families embrace each other with great affection. The trends of increased web sites such as FamilyReunions.com and Ancestry.com and the popularity of a show like “Who Do You Think You Are?” indicate that there remains an anthropological need as humans to with one hand reach to our past while the other hand stretches forward to grasp the future.
As Pearl S. Buck, Pulitzer and Nobel Prize Winner & Author, said:
The lack of emotional security of our young people is due, I believe, to their isolation from the larger family unit. No two people — No mere father and mother — are enough to provide emotional security for a child. He needs to feel himself one in a world of kinfolk.”
In this world of “kinfolk“, Reunions are not a new idea to one such family. The Worden clan has roots firmly planted in Wisconsin and a Family Tree that extends from the Pacific North West in Seattle, Washington to the most Eastern Southern part of the U.S. in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. These 4 generations of relatives aging from 90 years old to 9 months gather every year for a weeklong Family Reunion in Wisconsin. As the guests on TREND ON on the 4th of July this week, family members talked about the “How To’s” of successfully planning and continuing a strong tradition of reunions for over the past 34 years.
When the Family Farmstead of Otis and Sylvia (born in 1876 & 1901 respectively) was sold in 1978, the family gathered for a goodbye. Still getting together today, the descendants of the Patriarch and Matriarch includes 4 children, 10 grandchildren, 30 great-grandchildren and 3 (+2 on-the-way) great-great grandchildren, plus “out-laws” who have married into the family bringing the total number attending to about 65 members. Only now, in place of the Family Farm, the Extended Worden Family rents out a camp* that provides a “Relational & Emotional Homestead”.
“It’s important to provide a sense of Place,” says Jamie Worden Crothers, “…it doesn’t matter where or what that place is, but having a common meeting ground, is key for building the foundation for Family Reunions.”
Also important, is diversity and common ground, according to the eldest Cliff Worden. “The variety and difference of what each family member brings to the table whether it’s political, religious, ethnic, educational or occupational — that’s what makes for an interesting and exciting get together.”
“Flexibility and Organization” are the other Key Factors for a smooth and consistent Reunion whether it’s annually, every other year or spread out from 5 to 10 years — or even if it’s your first. Designate a contact person in each of the sub-families that is the go-to person for establishing numbers of people attending, coordinating family contributions to meals and clean-up, etc. Food is a natural opportunity for family team-building and bonding. Delegate is also a good and useful word in Reunion vocabulary.
Social Media, says Vick Styka, one of the lead organizers for the group, has really helped coordinate the Reunion. The Worden’s created a Family Reunion Facebook page and communication via Facebook facilitated designing and ordering Reunion t-shirts as well as other planning details. Team Worden is good-to-go with t-shirts for “Jersey Day!”
Also taking advantage of the strengths of the different members is key — says Paul Kunde, or “Plans” as his given nickname attests to. As one of the elder of the younger generation at age 28, Paul has lead planning reunion activities over the years covering everything from Crystal River canoe trips to Olympic games to Golf Outings as well as Capture the Flag, Scrabble Marathons, mean games of Spoons, Geo-Caching & more. The point here too, is that activities– no matter what the level of athletic or physical participation, create common experiences and shared memories that will strengthen the family relationships.
FUN is a crucial element. Laughter is the best thing to fill your family reunion with — as the Wordens do with long-running practical jokes and good-natured humor. Family members, all busy with their respective lives throughout the year, look forward to the week together because their common history and childhoods are celebrated and the unconditional love gives every family member a true belonging in the bigger brood.
As a younger voice, Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers (SK6ers)* song says, “Roots & Wings” captures what it is to be family:
Give your children Roots & Wings,
Never Fear the Change It Brings,
There’s no reason to be sad,
Be thankful for the time you had.”
(*Camps can be great resources for family rentals for reunion locations or as a place to go to a Family Camp if a Family doesn’t have extended relatives to have reunions with — a “camp family” can provide much the same bonding & memories as a reunion.)
Family Reunions as heard on TREND ON with Tamara Leigh and Heidi Feemster: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/linkedlocalnetwork/2012/07/04/trend-on-the-4th-of-july-and-family-reunion