One of the great truths of this world is that you never know what you have until you don’t have it anymore.
For years, my entire side of the family would gather every year without fail on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and summer (usually around July 4 or somewhere close to it) and meet at a different home on a rotating basis. It was a tradition that marked the holidays and the milestones of passing time.
The Peterson clan that started with my mom and dad and their children, and then grew to include spouses, and later grandchildren and now what would have been my late parents’ great grandchildren has always been a lively bunch, but now a count at 29 people and growing, it can barely fit into anyone’s home anymore.
It’s boisterous, jovial and always one of my favorite times of any holiday. Imagine the chaos of the opening scenes in the movie “Home Alone” and you can kind of get a feel for it. We have even added a Kevin into the family since it all began. But we don’t leave him behind.
And then all of a sudden, it ended abruptly on Easter of 2020, when it was canceled due to the pandemic, when the world changed for all of us. We have not gathered, other than for Zoom meetings or smaller gatherings, since Christmas of 2019.
And that is why I am over the moon with excitement for this weekend, when this noisy, fun-loving group gathers for a picnic that promises to be the thrill of the summer. I don’t know if we all will be wearing masks or not wearing masks and I am not sure even if everyone has been vaccinated, but I do know it will be amazing to see everyone again.
In fact, it will be the first time I will have actually seen in person one grandniece and one grandnephew. Think of it! More than 18 months have gone by and relatives who are just a few miles away have been all but invisible to us.
I can already hear the cacophony, the din generated by people all laughing, trying to talk over each other, trying to swap stories, share hugs and remark over how much everyone has changed. The only gift we will have to share, in addition to our potluck meal to pass, is the gift of each other. Is there anything more joyous than that?
Think of it! There will be second cousins who have never seen little people who share a lot of their same DNA with people they are seeing for the first time. Almost a quarter of this gathering will be age 5 and under. Imagine the games they will be able to play as they grow older. Who knows where this army of children will lead us?
And that says nothing about my expectant daughter-in-law, and who knows if there will be other babies on the way that might be unknown to the larger group. This is the excitement and the thrill that makes Peterson reunions never a dull moment.
Sure there will be catching up on jobs, child development, house hunting, retirement, health issues and all the rest of the hubbub that is standard fare at these events. But the best part is always the storytelling, the recounting of tales often repeated at family gatherings for decades on end.
This is the glue that holds us all together, the family lore, the shared bond, the recipe that love is made of.
When I was growing up, we never knew a family bigger than our own nuclear family, so that is why bringing in this wider clan is so rejuvenating, so exhilarating and, yes, even a little exhausting.
We’ve lost my parents, the couple that started it all, and a brother before we were born and a sister just four years ago, and that is why we know better than others might just how important it is that the Petersons gather. It’s so true that we may never pass this way again. We all know that we have to make the best of our time together because in an instant it could all change.
COVID-19 has taught us all a lot of lessons, but one of the things that it has renewed in me is that my family, always important in the past, could not be more cherished for my future.
In so many ways, it is just another picnic, another reason to assemble the Petersons, but in so many more ways, normal is the best reason to celebrate that there ever was.