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


24 Responses to “Connecting with loved ones at a Minnesota family reunion”

  1. Dan Traun Says:

    My family does a few gatherings throughout the year aside from birthdays and weddings, etc. I have a cousin in rural Wisconsin that has a sugar bush; early Spring is syrup making time. We have another gathering in the fall at the same farm in rural Wisconsin and make potato dumplings. Your definition of family reunion is spot-on.

    • What fun activities your family has–making maple syrup and potato dumplings. My middle brother has a horseradish making party every fall and one sister has a soup party. Not everyone attends, though, but all are welcome.

  2. Love seeing the generations within families – those two girls in the first photo are such cutie pies – the boys in the last photo are plotting greatness -ha! – thanks so much for sharing 🙂 Happy Day – Enjoy!

    • I agree on both the cuteness and the plotting.

    • I experienced the annual family reunion, gathering for the holidays and enjoyed the Sunday family suppers. If we are gathered in the same spot that Sunday family supper will happen and there can be 3 to 5 courses and even up to 7 to 9 courses – a whole lot of food. Family has been in the forefront of my mind lately with 3 passings in less than a year, a family member had a stroke and two other family members have gone in for major surgeries. I have We Are Family . . . in my head – ha!

      • I didn’t mention food. Yes, it’s also an important component.

        I am sorry to hear about all of the passings and health challenges in your family. As we age, we realize more the importance of at least an annual reunion.

  3. Littlesundog Says:

    The days of family reunions of my Dad’s family went away with the death of my Grandmother (Dad’s mom). My mother’s family quit their reunions years before that – the older people became ill or passed on and the young people never took up the events. And, due to a rift in my family (my mother’s parents being ousted by my dad’s mother) there never was a good bond of family relations. My childhood memories are of chaos and drama at birthday parties, Thanksgiving and Christmas… all because one woman had to dominate everything. And, I see similar drama today being the step-mom (I’m not even referred to as that but for the sake of understanding my position I’ll use step-mother) in a family where healing cannot seem to happen. FD has three grandson’s we have no relationship with. So sad. I now understand my mother’s parents sadness – for they rarely got to see us kids, and any event where we did get to see them was utter disaster.

    Audrey, so many times I am drawn to your posts simply because it is like visiting a bit of heaven. You are “good people” with wonderful values, and loving hearts. I can slip into your “family” story here for a bit and feel good – knowing happiness and genuine love does exist out there. Your photographs represent the beauty of family… something to be cherished these days. What a wonderful collection of memories… and even the itchy chigger bites make for great story telling!! Ha ha! I hope you heal quickly! 😀

    • I am so sorry for the discord in your family. Family love can run deep. But so can the hurt within a family. Don’t think my family, on either side, is perfect. All families have “issues.” Sometimes those issues can be resolved and sometimes, unfortunately, they cannot. When there are strong personalities and an unwillingness to listen, then problems often erupt. That has been my observation. If only compassion, understanding and support would prevail at all times…

      On a side note, since you mentioned it, the itchiness of the chigger bites is finally less intense. I need to remember that I am like a magnet for chiggers and mosquitoes and must protect myself. This is my third bout with chiggers.

      • Littlesundog Says:

        Did you have shorts on? Generally, I do not have problems with chiggers since I wear lightweight pants all summer. I use essential oil blends too but I’m not sure that really helps much.

      • I was wearing capris and flip flops. The main problem is around my feet and ankles, which makes sense. I was also on the grass kneeling, etc., when taking photos, which means I also have bites on my legs. The thought of chiggers did not even cross my mind. Next time I need to think ahead.

  4. Valerie Says:

    Looks like a wonderful time was had by all. Love seeing the baby photos. Sorry you got the chigger bites. ;-(

  5. Jackie Says:

    Love that you document your family reunions, it always seems to be such a fun time for you all. Thanks for sharing! We have our annual 4th of July gathering at mom and dad’s but it’s just immediate family, 30 of us. This year there was a family reunion on my dad’s side for the first time in a long time but it happened to be the same weekend as our family week at the cabin. We had to miss it. I was sad to miss it but it’s not easy to get my 3 kids and spouses all together at the same time in the summer.

  6. Don Says:

    Reunions are like chapters in a good book. When you finish one chapter another begins. I have great fondness for reunions and here in Alaska the opportunities for them are slowly fading as the older generations begin their new great adventure, i.e. pass on, and the younger generations move out of the state. I look forward to more reunions as I get closer to “moving out of state” and being a part of them once again. Distances become much shorter when you are part of the lower 48 and I have a great anticipation for this.

    Loved the pictures! Looks like the weather man looked favorable upon you. Appears like a grand time was had by all, young and classics alike!

  7. Tara Says:

    This makes my heart happy! Love it!

  8. Awe sweet times and good memories made. Looks like you have a lovely family

  9. Sue Ready Says:

    No we don’t have big family reunions. Looks like you and all your relatives have fun reconnecting with one another.

  10. chlost Says:

    My husband’s family has had an annual picnic/reunion for many years. It goes back at least to his grandparents’ Memorial Day gatherings. Most recently, we have found that the those of our generation are the “old timers” and are now responsible to host and organize the picnic. There are now several new babies who have joined us as the newest generation is added to the family. But we wonder whether that next generation will continue the tradition once we are not able to make it happen. They don’t know each other well, and have busy, full lives which make it difficult to attend, let alone plan this gathering.

    In the meantime, we enjoy seeing everyone each year.

    • I am so glad to hear this about your husband’s family. But I understand your concerns. The past two years, I have not attended the Kletscher reunion (which includes my aunts, uncles, cousins and their kids). With my mom no longer living in her home, I don’t have a home base for traveling back to my hometown. This reunion, like yours, stretches backs decades to past generations. Maybe next summer I will make it.

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