When you think of a family reunion, do you have the same thoughts as me???? ......
Relaxing at a park under the shade of an enormous maple. Eating original recipe Kentucky Fried Chicken, potato salad, corn on the cob, and Aunt Edna's homeade brownies. Reminiscing about old times with grandpa and grandma. Overhearing the gleeful giggles of nieces, nephews and younger cousins competing in potato-sack races. The occasional clink of a ringer, (or thud of a horse-shoe in the sand), as Uncle Jack passes on the family tradition of tossing horse-shoes to the rising generation. Catching up on the comings and goings of a multitude of cousins who seem as excited about your life as you are theirs?
Well, wouldn't that be nice...
The Jens Nielsen family reunion is nothing like this (and never has been as far as I'm concerned)--except for the KFC.
Each year in August, we make the long pilgrimage to the same park in Riverton. We even use the exact same terrace at the park. True the drive is only about an hour, but it seems like an eternity. It's amazing how time seems to stand still when you know your entire evening is going to be sucked down the drain and you don't have the power to bring it back.
My dad has one sister, who has one daughter. Their two families, and my hearing impaired grandmother who is rapidly losing the battle of senility (bless her heart), are the only people we know at the reunion. She might even be the only survivor from Jens Nielsen's immediate family. And we only chit chat with them for a few minutes. I actually don't know anybody else at the entire reunion. In fact, I wouldn't recognize any of them if I ran into them today and the reunion was only a week ago. For all I know, they could've been complete strangers who were playing at the park and happened to wander over for free lemonade and a good time.
So all my siblings (who live about 15 minutes from each other) head down to this park in Riverton to hang out together. Except for Brother-in-law Trent whose prayers were answered this year when his family offered to take him waterskiing (coincidently I'm sure) on the same day as the Nielsen reunion. That sucker. His parting words to my sister were, "I'll try to make it back in time for dinner." Yeah right. We'll save you some chicken just in case--the drumstick nobody wants. Well that's nice. We promised our kids Asha and Ty would be there for them to play with, but they went with Trent. All I could do was shake my head in amazement and ask, "Sherra, why on earth didn't you go with them?"
If my siblings are like me, the sole reason they go each year is to prevent a guilt trip from my dad (Tom). (The notable exception is Shane, my younger brother who couldn't care less what Tom thinks but noticed a couple of years ago that a couple of the Nielsen-related clan were attractive young women in their late teens or early twenties. What hasn't actually occured to him--at least I hope it hasn't--is that even though we don't know any of them, WE ARE FREAKIN RELATED!!!!) Tom rarely gets excited about any family outing--at least not with my mom's side of the family. But for some reason he gets real stoked about his Grandpa Jens Nielsen's family reunion. He pretends he knows some of the people there. But he never really introduces us to any of them. I believe it's cause he thinks we'll find out they don't really know who he is.
Of course, there is the awkward moment every year when Tom or Aunt Carol have to stand up and introduce us to everyone not looking up from their dinner. Seriously, nobody even looks up; everyone keeps right on eating. Except for me. That's usually when I have to run to the Yukon to get "something". This year I managed to need my baseball and glove right at the moment when the awkward introductions were approaching our table. Didn't even occur to anyone that nobody else had a glove. Nothing like playing catch with yourself at the Jens Nielsen family reunion. Jess didn't even realize I was gone. She was busy pretending to feed Jayson without looking up.
This year was even more fun. We got to help out. I actually have to give Aunt Carol credit for making this the best reunion in years. She put in a ton of work, but still felt obligated to follow the same format we've followed for years. Eat in your own family unit. Awkward introductions. Games for the kids. (Our game was easy. Jess is brilliant. We just dumped a bunch of candy and small toys all over the grass and called it a treasure hunt. It was over in 1 1/2 minutes. Kids were happy. So were we.) The grand finale--The annual door prize giveaway.
This is where Aunt Carol pulled way ahead from her predecessors. Everyone there seemed to love the door prizes. I lost my ticket and thus forfeited my door-prize eligibility. I never even went up to the table to see what was there. I just believe Jess's testimony that this year the prizes were better. My older sister Shelly was sure her number wouldn't get called. She had a gut instinct. So she went up to the front and monitored Tom (over his shoulder) as he read the tickets. Sure enough, hers was the only number not called. Supposedly. My hunch is it was called at one of the moments when she was standing up there not paying attention. She did dig through the pile of called tickets and still couldn't find it. Poor thing. She actually likes the prizes every year. Would've been a shame if her brother (or someone) pulled her matching ticket stub from the drawing before it started. Definitely would've been a shame.
My collection of door prizes from the past: a hand knitted afgan (not sure if I spelled this right.) A plastic tissue box holder decorated with pink and green yarn, coconut-scented Suave shampoo, and a tin filled with hard-tack candy. In years past, it hasn't really mattered if my number was drawn first or last, the prizes all typically seem more suited for women. Probably cause they're usually made by women, for women.
The door-prize giveaway came early this year, thanks to the pouring rain that cut the kids games short--in fact, ours was the last game prior to the rain. I asked Tom if Jens Nielsen would want us to continue in spite of the rain and dangerously close lightning. I was disappointed to find out Jens would have wanted things to continue--at least according to Tom.
Carol's only mistake--allowing Tom to MC. His humor attempts were ill-fated. At times he would overhear conversation from my siblings at our table and respond or comment about it through the microphone for everyone else's listening pleasure. Nice. Good thing most people just kept eating and didn't seem to hear him.
The positives: The food was good. So was the snowcone. Our game finished quickly. Kids seemed to have fun. Trent had a good time waterskiing. Nobody got hit in the face with the baseball bat my sister brought for the pinata. It ended earlier than normal (at least for us). Tom's stint as reunion MC is over. Carol can rest for another 5 or 6 years (she did waaaay more work pulling it together than Tom--which I guess is to be expected).
The best positive: I made a formal announcement to Tom that this would be the last Jens Nielsen family reunion my little family would attend (and I blamed it on Jess--because he likes her way more than he does me and won't hold a grudge towards her). Nothing like one full year of advanced notice. My guess is Jens Nielsen would've respected that.