Years ago there were certain events to look forward to. Beginning with New Years, then there was Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, for some families there was also the family reunion. In some respects it was the big social event of the year, especially for large pioneer families.
My great grandfather came to Kansas before it was a state. He returned to Ohio to persuade five of his brothers and a brother-in-law to follow him to the Kansas Territory, where he had purchased land. In those days large families were quite common. They all settled within 20 miles of one another. Consequently, when I walked down the street in our small town, about every third or fourth person that I met was a cousin. I had dozens of cousins and for the most part they were all pretty friendly. So we had the makings for a great family reunion every year. The date was usually Labor Day weekend, but sometimes a week earlier if we couldn’t book the City Park. By September 1st most of the heavy farming was done, the kids were still on vacation and everyone felt the need for a social diversion. So we held a family reunion.
The number of people that attended varied from year to year but we could always plan on at least one hundred —sometimes a hundred and fifty. It was surprising how many relatives would drop everything and bring the whole family. By the time I was growing up, the original family (I call them the clan) had spread. By now, most of them lived within 100 miles of the hometown. In those days, you left home at daylight and hoped that you could drive the 100 miles before noon. But many of them made the trip every year and it was a thrill to see them all again.
Members of the family that lived in town would go to the City Park very early in the morning to stake out a claim in the shade. They also moved all the wooden benches to that area. Then they rounded up dozens of wooden sawhorses and planks for extra tables. They would bring some large chunks of firewood and extra bridge planks for benches. Someone would bring a brand new horse tank and fill it partly full of water. Then they would go to the icehouse and get several hundred pound blocks of ice to put in the tank. That ice water would cool the watermelons!
It was a carry-in picnic dinner in the park. I was always amazed at all the delicious food that appeared. The family might have had some serious shortcomings --- but the women all knew how to cook. Each family brought enough of several kinds of food for themselves and at least one other family. It was a time of feasting, visiting and having fun. Best of all was renewing our ties of friendship and family. There were all sorts of characters in the family and not all were heroes, nor were they villains. But they all belonged to the family and knew their heritage and where they came from. It was a close-knit group.
I know there are families that still hold family reunions every year, and somehow I envy them. When I go back to my home town, a majority of my relatives have moved away and most of the ones that are still around don't remember me or the old-time events that I'm talking about. Those strong family bonds that were once prevalent in many communities seem to have been diluted and weakened to the point that they are no longer visible.
I have a lot of fond memories of those family reunions and of the relatives that helped to make those memories. Most of the relatives are gone now but the memories remain.