“I WANT TO COME to your family reunion,” my friend Mike told me recently after I filled him in on all the fun my extended family has at our annual reunion.
That reunion happened this past weekend in Vesta, a town of about 300 in Redwood County in southwestern Minnesota. This is the place where my great grandparents, Rudolph and Matilda Kletscher, settled and where their son, Henry, my paternal grandfather, raised his family.
Every year on the last weekend in July, we gather here—at the city park if the weather is nice, in the community hall if it’s too hot or rainy—to reconnect. Only once in recent years have I missed the reunion, for a wedding. Otherwise I keep my calendar clear for that date because, honestly, I love seeing my aunts and uncles and cousins and their families and my mom and siblings and their families.
My Dad, who died in 2003, grew up with nine brothers and sisters, so you can imagine the size of our reunion, even when everyone doesn’t show up. We’ve finally resorted to wearing name tags the past two years just so we can identify everyone and who belongs to whom. And, yes, even the occasional boyfriend or girlfriend or other friend of a relative attends. We are welcoming that way.
Recently we infused new energy into a reunion that, for the younger generation, had become a bit boring. Seems they found simply sitting around, visiting and eating not all that exciting. I totally get that because even I want to do more than sit for hours.
Two years ago we added a Saturday evening campfire complete with homemade wine tasting, smores, snacks (Kletscher reunions always include lots of food), singing and old-fashioned games like gunny sack and 3-legged races. My cousin Vicki and her husband, Dave, also created a texting competition popular with the teens and young adults.
This year we didn’t have a campfire, but we still met at the park until the heat, humidity and mosquitoes chased us out around10 p.m. But we got in those old-fashioned games, with an ear corn toss added this year. Vicki and Dave also planned a few other games, including a treasure hunt. I teamed up with two cousins and an aunt and her elementary-age grandchildren. Smart move. When we adults determined that the clue “pop, popcorn and hot dogs” meant a concession stand, we pointed across the softball diamond and told the granddaughters to run. They did. We cheered them on.
More games continued following Sunday’s potluck. And let me tell you, the Kletschers know how to cook. Hotdishes crammed nearly every inch of one banquet table with salads and desserts jammed onto another.
We’d barely finished our meal when my sister Lanae set up the first of several Minute-to-Win-It games she pulled together. I stepped up to photograph the action. Last year I was in the thick of it, planning activities and leading a family trivia competition. This year I wanted to observe the fun.
And the kids had a blast. I could see it in their smiles and hear it in their laughter and in the pounding of their feet racing to the prize table.
While planning games takes time and effort, it’s almost a necessity if we are to keep the young people interested in our reunion and connected as a family. By competing against each other or working together as a competitive team, they are getting to know one another. They are building memories.
Even my 17-year-old, who in years past grumbled about attending the family reunion, now looks forward to it. He protested when we told him we had to leave late Sunday afternoon for the 2 ½-hour drive back to Faribault.
Already the family in charge of next year’s reunion has selected a Mexican theme and is talking piñatas and tacos. We laughed at the idea since we’re a bunch of Germans. But we’ll go along with the theme, as long as we can bring our sauerkraut hotdishes.
CLICK HERE TO READ about the 2010 Kletscher family reunion in the blog post, “Making memories at a Minnesota family reunion with red Jell-O and, um, underwear.”
© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling