Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Connecting with loved ones at a Minnesota family reunion August 17, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Cousins Evelyn, left, and Sierra are the same age.

Cousins Evelyn, left, and Sierra, both about 16 months old.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE a family reunion?

Family: my eldest daughter, Amber and her husband, Marc, and their daughter, Isabelle.

Family: my eldest daughter, Amber; her husband, Marc; and their daughter, Isabelle.

I define those two words as an annual gathering of related people who love and care for one another. They meet to have fun, to laugh and cry together, to joke and also carry on serious conversations, to remember and to make memories. It’s all about reconnecting and maintaining the strong bond of family.

Saturday marked a perfect Minnesota summer day for the Helbling family reunion in a stunning setting.

Saturday marked a perfect summer day for the Helbling family reunion in a rural Minnesota location.

Last weekend my husband’s family reunited at his youngest sister and her husband’s rural acreage north of the metro. It’s a beautiful property with woods and pond in a serene setting that I really did not want to leave on Sunday afternoon.

Four-month-old Izzy's feet.

Four-month-old Izzy’s feet.

On this land, 43 of us came together—from as distant as west central Missouri and Grand Rapids, Michigan—for the Helbling family reunion. Thirty-two adults. Eleven kids. And two babies. Every year in recent years there have been new babies.

Sierra tugs at her mommy's shirt.

Sierra tugs at her mommy’s shirt.

Missing were my father-in-law, who is recovering from a stroke, and eight others. We remembered, too, those who are no longer with us—my mother-in-law, gone nearly 23 years now, and my nephew who died of cancer 15 years ago. A small group of us, including Justin’s parents, honored him on Sunday with a pizza lunch.

Brothers-in-law Randy and Marty catch up as smoke trails from three grills.

Brothers-in-law Randy and Marty catch up as smoke trails from three grills.

Through shared experiences, we bond as only family can in joy and in grief.

My husband, Randy, is on the right with his siblings who attended the reunion.

My husband, Randy, is on the right with his siblings who attended the reunion. He is the oldest boy in a family of nine children.

On this weekend, we paused for family portraits, understanding the importance of documenting our presence for future generations. We laughed and cheered as young adults and then kids competed in the human version of Hungry Hungry Hippos. Many threw bean bags in a tournament. Others basked in the bright sunshine on the pond dock watching a cattail float on the water. We cradled snail shells, paddled in the paddle boat, gave hugs and high fives.

Baby Emmett was passed from arm to arm.

Baby Emmett was passed around all day.

We celebrated successes and welcomed the newest Helbling family member, Emmett, born only two weeks prior.

Justin stands atop a deck and calls the family to lunch by blowing into a conch shell.

Justin stands atop a deck and calls the family to lunch by blowing in to a conch shell.

The memories continued to stack as kids chased a baby bunny found in a window well. Great nieces plucked sun-ripened tomatoes. A niece’s husband summoned family to lunch by blowing in to a conch shell. Adults tossed batons and wood chunks onto the lawn in the Scandinavian game of Kubb. Four slim family members stuffed themselves inside a cardboard box, just for fun. And in the deep dark of night, those sleeping in tents awakened to the eerie howling of wolves from a nearby sanctuary.

Balls, purchased for a human game of Hungry Hungry Hippos, proved popular with the kids. Here four-month-old Izzy doesn't know quite what to do when set among the orbs.

Balls, purchased for a human game of Hungry Hungry Hippos, proved popular with the kids. Here four-month-old Izzy doesn’t know quite what to do when set among the orbs.

This is the stuff of memories. This is the stuff of family reunions.

Cousins found a hole in the yard and proceeded to dig and dig.

Cousins found a hole in the yard and proceeded to dig and dig.

TELL ME, do you have an annual family reunion? What are some of your memories of that event? For me, I have a lingering physical memory of Saturday’s reunion in the form of multiple intensely itchy chigger bites.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for a post about the human version of Hungry Hungry Hippos which was played at the reunion.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling