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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Family Matters - From My Window 7/27/22

Issue Date: July 27, 2022

Janie Thibodeau Martin

Family reunions are often the punchline of jokes, and some people dread and avoid them. There are lots of good reasons for that, as bringing together families can dredge up old hurts, cause friction or anxiety, and sometimes bore people, especially kids, to tears.

I am one of the lucky ones. July brought a weekend of joy and a whirlwind to our home, as we hosted the biannual "Schmidfest" gathering of my mother's extended family.

The extended family is not very large ?? about 45 attended from within Wisconsin, Minnesota, Seattle, WA and Portland, OR".and only a handful didn't make it. By the standards of family sizes when I was growing up, that's a very small 4 generation family.

Two of those missing had the best possible reason ?? they were expecting a baby due the week of the gathering. I was mulling why attendance is consistently high, and came up with a few reasons: The gathering is held on the same weekend every other year. That keeps it less likely to encounter conflicts, and motivates people to want to be present. The "hosting" of the gathering rotates between the three main family branches, so each family is only responsible for the planning and communications once every six years. People don't get tired of the work involved, since it is infrequent. It doesn't always fall to the same handful of people as it does in some families. And smaller families, like ours, mean each member's presence is more important. Every absence is noted; and those who can't or don't come get communications and pictures before and after to know they were missed.

I feel a huge debt of gratitude to my parents, and my aunts and uncles. They made it a point to gather all of us frequently when we were children, although we lived a four-hour drive away. I am in touch with my ten cousins, share in their major life events and keep up to date with their kids, the great-grandbabies and even their pets. It takes effort and face time to create these life-long bonds; I am eternally grateful to them for fostering this closeness.

Since the event is infrequent we make a weekend of it ?? a Friday night social, a full day of meals and games on Saturday, and heartfelt departures on Sundays. We hosted four tent and trailer camping couples for the whole weekend-the Schmids are outdoorsy people and made the most of our "little piece of heaven."

Besides sharing memories, the raucous traditional bingo games with prizes ranging from the weird to the nostalgic, special attention was given to the revered elders present. My grandparents are long deceased; my father has been gone six years and one uncle died young; one aunt is no longer able to leave her care facility. But my mom, aunt and uncle were treated as the rock stars they are. Every time I glanced over at the "octogenarian table of honor" one of my cousins or a grandchild was there visiting the elders. There is true respect in the younger family members for our seniors ?? because the respect flows both ways and not just one. None of this "kids nowadays" crabbing. And a refreshing oasis free from tiresome political blather. My mom was clearly having the time of her life. The two newest members of the family, toddlers Quinn and Delilah, charmed everyone. If the elders were the venerated stars of Schmidfest, those two "littles" were the fan favorites. My mother's younger brother, 85, said grace before we ate Saturday; my emotions during his humble and heartfelt thanks were almost overwhelming.

Schmids are animal people. Our horse got more attention than she's had in her life; and seven guest dogs (not including our own) attended. There was no spilled food to clean up whatsoever; the rover "roombas" cleaned up anything edible. It says something about my relatives every single one of the dogs was a rescue, most of mysterious lineage. Our Schmidfest will be historically noted as hosting the most dog guests ever, an appropriate honor for people like Mike and I.

And the pot luck food".so much food, so good".so many creative salads; a blueberry cobbler to die for; three table's worth of variety, quality and deliciousness. I ate twice what I normally do and didn't regret a single bite of it.

A tradition of big "announcements" has become associated with the gathering. Three years ago my nephew proposed to his sweet girlfriend in front of the group. This time a great-granddaughter announced her husband and her are expecting.

Our 2022 gathering was a year overdue because of concerns for the vulnerable family members due to Covid; we have many medical professionals among us and caution was the watchword last year. So it was especially sweet to gather this year. What Covid reinforced to us is that there is nothing like family. After everyone but our kids left on Sunday, I couldn't stop thinking about how the weekend flew by and was too short for me to spend quality time with every person present, as I really would have liked to. (I did manage a personal interaction with each dog, though, and also asked for some coaching on my patch from the family raspberry authority.)

We have close friends, neighbors and ex-coworkers, but nothing can replace family. Make time to foster those bonds when your kids are young, you will never regret it. I'm already looking forward to 2024; nothing will keep me away. "We may never pass this way again."

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.


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