Western NY still feels like home. It has been more than half my life ago that I lived there, but the open country and farms scattered on rolling hills still speak to me like no other land in this country. We have lived in beautiful places—nestled between two majestic mountain ranges in Washington state and in historic Charleston with its charming architecture and ocean views— yet western NY is still the place I love most.
We spent nearly 2 weeks back in NY earlier this month, visiting family and attending reunions. Though family reunions are often stereotyped as torturous events, we enjoy being with our families and look forward to seeing everyone when we can make it. Our days were jam packed with activities (and trips to Wegmans), but the opportunity to see so many of our favorite people in one place made it worth the effort.
My mom’s family reunion goes back several generations. With around 200 people there, it feels like a scavenger hunt trying to figure out how each person is related. The wall-sized family tree chart helps to sort out which branch we are from, but in the end it doesn’t matter much. Many of the family are believers, so I feel closer to them as brothers and sisters in the Lord than as third cousins.
This reunion meets on family-owned property that is complete with a pavilion, BBQ pit, a creek, climbing trees, and an open field for the annual “kids don’t strike out” softball game. Inside the pavilion are tables and couches and endless food. In addition to the large wall chart, there is table filled with photo albums covering decades of reunion fun. It’s always fun to pull out the 1994 book to show my kids pictures of myself at their age! (I’m the one with my eyes closed. I have school pictures that turned out like that too…)
We drove over an hour each way to get to that reunion on Saturday, and on Sunday we woke up and drove over an hour in another direction to gather with Shawn’s family. This was a smaller reunion, beginning with his paternal grandparents, and including their 4 children and all of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
We spent the day at a lovely park pavilion, enjoying the sun, the playground, and the delicious BBQ lunch. Though many of Shawn’s family members still live in NY and PA, his parents and some of his siblings have moved to the West coast in recent years. With our growing families and the cost of travel, we seldom have all of Shawn’s siblings and their kids in one place. There were 5 or 6 new children in the family since the last time we all saw each other!
Seeing all of the kids play together was the highlight of the day for me. When we were all teenagers, I would have imagined that our families would be very different from each other. Though there are some differences, we all desire to raise children that love the Lord. Our families are much more alike than they are different, and the children seemed to sense that about each other.
We continued our visiting into the evening at Grandma’s church, eating, celebrating birthdays, and opening Lego gifts from Grandpa.
The next morning, we made the hour drive again to gather with Shawn’s parents and siblings one last time. Many of our local friends dropped by throughout the day to see all of the kids and catch up with us. For a house with 14 children under 12 running around, it was amazingly peaceful and fun.
That weekend was the busiest time of our trip. The next 3 days we spent at my parents’ house. Though we didn’t do as much driving, we continued to visit with another grandma, aunt, and cousins. The kids spent lots of time climbing trees and chasing sword fighting their teenage aunts and uncles.
I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen so many family members in such a short amount of time. Exhausting for an introvert, but worth it!
I hope my kids remember this trip with fondness and grow up looking forward to family reunions as we do. I’m not sure they will long for the beauty of NY as Shawn and I do, but I do hope they will always feel at home when they are with family!