Dr. Val FarmerDr.Val
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

One Trip, Three Reunions

September 8, 2008

We’ve been fortunate to travel to France, Greece, Japan, Mexico, Argentina, Alaska and Hawaii in the past few years. All fantastic trips! As much as we enjoy travel, we found a new focus for our trips and future plans. Family reunions.

Past reunions. We had a successful family camping reunion in Yosemite Park four years ago that involved our family of seven children and grandchildren and my siblings and their families. There were 53 people that showed up. It was chaotic but quite memorable for everyone who came.

A year ago, we had a reunion in St. Louis. Four of our seven children and their families were able to come. Counting ourselves, there were 21 people to house, organize and feed.

We showed them the highlights of St. Louis and enjoyed a side trip up to Nauvoo, IL. We enjoyed lots of swimming at two different pools. We made great memories and the cousins continued to bond.

This year’s reunion. This year we decided to hold a family reunion at our daughter’s home in Harbor, Oregon, the southernmost town along the coast of Oregon.

This time five of our seven children and two in-laws were able to come. There were 13 of our 17 grandchildren present, ourselves and my sister and brother-in-law. It was a crowd but we assigned meals and planned out each day’s events. We had access to a vacation home and a campsite during our visit.

Camping was surprisingly successful, even for the little ones. We had campfires, story-telling, blackberry picking, s’mores, dutch oven meals and river fun. A few of us wimps retreated to beds at night.

Our daughter’s home was a block and half from a beach access. We went to the beach for a scavenger hunt and then we built a fort from driftwood. The kids loved it and everyone pitched in. We were quite proud of our accomplishment and left a tangible memory of our stay on the beach. We went twice to a delightful beach named "Secret Beach," which was just as inviting and private as it’s name. This was the southern Oregon coast at it’s best.

We went to the tide pools and a lighthouse at Pebble Beach in Crescent City, California. Another day we went hiking at Stout’s Grove, a magnificent redwood tree grove north of Crescent City. The children spent two afternoons on the Chetco River at a park playing in the river and - with adult supervision - running some mini-rapids in rubber kayaks and boats.

At the house, we canned 42 pints of blackberry jam and syrup, watched the children play together, and were fascinated by their delight in playing Wii games. We had an evening of appreciation for my sister and brother-in-law with everyone sharing their favorite memories.

The best part was watching the cousins continuing to deepen their relationships. We are now setting up web cameras in each family home to keep these relationships going.

We are also planning regular family reunions every two years and are setting up a family fund to cushion travel expenses for those who have to long travel distances. Any money not used for travel will be used for reunion

events. If future reunions are anything like this last one, they will only get better and better. Foreign or exotic travel can’t beat this.

A cousin’s reunion. My brother, sister and myself organized a reunion for nieces and nephews and their families living in the Pacific Northwest. Without the formal organizing of the reunion, it is highly doubtful that these families would ever meet or interact.

We held a pizza and swimming party at Mirrormont Country Club near Issaquah, Washington. About 50 people showed up. Our presence helped family members know us better as we connected with each other. The reunion encouraged understanding and appreciation of our heritage and developed family bonds.

50th High School Reunion. I graduated from Cleveland High School on Beacon Hill in Seattle. It was a small, close knit high school comprised of students from mostly working class families.

There were 183 in our graduating class. It was dwarfed in size by the larger schools at the time. We were the perennial underdogs in sports in a city league which at the time was comprised of eight high schools. Our victories were savored then and now. Participation in sports and music (choir, band and orchestra) were two unifying themes that seemed to have resonating and emotional power despite the passage of time.

Most of my classmates had known each other in neighborhood elementary and junior high schools. The majority have remained in the Pacific Northwest and have been regular reunion attenders. Maybe it is age or family background, but there was an absence of pretense or pride among the attendees.

My wife sensed the camaraderie and closeness the class members had for each other, much different from her big city high school reunions. The evening was fun: mingling, conversation, a dinner, a video presentation, prizes, nostalgic trips down memory lane, good natured humor topped off by an Elvis impersonator.

Maybe smaller and more rural high schools have greater depth of relationships and more to share. Maybe big high schools don’t have enough sense of community or shared common experience to make it much more than a glorified cocktail party. This one was satisfying and worth the trip.

One trip, three reunions, wonderful memories!