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Helen's Mulberry Lane Farm Journal

March 17, 2010

Forty Years Of Family Reunions

Today is St. Patrick's Day. I am thinking of my Mother. My mother is full-blooded Irish. She lives in Canada, in the same area where she was born and where I grew up. She tells with tears in her eyes of the famines in Ireland and how her ancestors suffered there. I always think of that on March 17th.

Family. Nothing down here is worth more to me than family: my own ten children, my parents, my dear mother-in-law, my 11 grandchildren. (Did I tell you #12 is on the way---my oldest daughter is expecting her fifth baby in October!) The older I get the more family I gather around me, and the more precious they become to me.

Family reminds me of family reunions and how important they are. I grew up without family reunions of any kind. As a matter of fact, my mother was separated from her 14 brothers and sisters because they shunned her when she left the Catholic faith. I remember meeting two of my aunts briefly as a teenager. That was it, and there was just no connection.

My Grandma Filliol holding my first child, Jennifer with me looking on.
Photo by Gerald Aardsma, 1976.

Here I am reading a French Bible to my Grandmother Filliol.
Photo by Gerald Aardsma, 1976.

Relatives on my Dad's side were fewer in number and more scattered. My Grandpa Filliol died when I was quite young. My Grandma Filliol lived close by. She lived until my first child was born. She was of royal Parisian blood and very refined. She was separated by a language barrier from us children---she was French and we weren't that fluent. How I wish I could go back and get to know her better! Sometimes you learn lessons too late to apply them to loved ones that are gone. But these lessons are never too late to start applying to those loved ones that remain.

My Grandpa Filliol, a godly man who died before
I had a chance to really know him.
What a reunion heaven will be! Photo, 1940

I'm on the right, my mom in the middle,
and my only sister Lucy, on the left.
Photo by Rachel Aardsma, Reunion 2008.

I remember whenever my Dad's sister, my Aunt Monique, came to visit, because it rarely happened. Now, she was refined! Her husband was a doctor and we thought he was wonderful! I loved my Aunt Monique and wanted to be like her when I grew up---her hair all neatly wrapped up around her head in a French twist and her sophisticated clothes! We had a blast when Aunt Monique came to visit because I got to play with my four cousins.

My father had a brother, Uncle Eve. He died in World War II, so, of course we never met. Then another Uncle, Uncle Mischeu, whom I only met once or twice. He lives in Paris, France, where my Dad is from.

Not having family shindigs growing up makes me feel a certain vacuum in my life. That is probably why I feel passionate about family reunions!

Our "Gerald and Helen Aardsma Family Homecoming 2010" reunion is fast approaching. I need to get things organized before I get too busy in the garden. We have our annual reunion (now named Homecoming, because we hope to stage it on our Mulberry Lane Farm homestead as much as possible) the second weekend in August each year.

While I was at the library recently I noticed several books on family reunions in the new book section. Puuuuurrrfect! I would try to read them next time I went with Gerald for his monthly IVIG treatment at the hospital.

My sister-in-law, Valorie, honoring our
Grandma (Upton) Nesbit with a corsage.
Photo by Helen Aardsma, Reunion 2009.

One of the books that I had time to read was, "Secrets of Successful Family Reunions---Have a FABULOUS reunion for Every Age---Every Time---Pass your values forward".*1 I was inspired by Mr. Wolf's philosophy. He is pretty fanatical about how important family reunions are. He is an old man now, with 40 years of reunions under his belt, so I was sure he would have some wisdom to share with me.

Great food with great cousins!
Photo by Helen Aardsma, Reunion 2009.

This little 152 page book tells you

"how one extended family, with simple lifestyles, has been inspired to continue to persevere year after year to a rewarding and fun-filled long weekend to keep the benefits of a family reunion alive." *2

Robert Wolfe opens the book with how he felt after driving 1,600 miles to be part of their fortieth annual family reunion. Why is Mr. Wolfe so passionate about family reunions?

"In addition to the sheer pleasure of being together, we recognized that our children would grow up in a radically different world than we had. We wanted to impart the same work ethic, willingness to accept responsibility, values and faith that had been ingrained in us. How to transmit these values was the question. Much would need to be done within the individual nuclear family, but we knew wider family support would be helpful. We chose the family reunion as a way of building strong bonds, conveying family history, and instilling appreciation of our fore bearers who overcame significant difficulties without complaint." *3

Oldest family member greets youngest family member.
Samuel Hall (my grandson) being held by Grandpa Filliol (my father).
Photo by Helen Aardsma, Reunion 2008.

He talks about his early family gatherings when some of the older adult children returned home, while younger children still lived at home. The Matriarch was the central hub.

"Returning siblings had their favorite foods prepared, and other forms of recognition. They in turn, brought gifts for the family and individuals as appropriate. This was a modest six-room country home, and all incomes were modest, but sharing and thoughtfulness was the key. The home was crowded, the activity high, but with all the sharing, the fun and laughter was infectious." *4

Can you spot the Filliol relative in this picture?
This is my kindergarten grade picture.
I am in the second row, fourth on the right.

These early family gatherings set the stage for the future annual family reunions. The goal of a family reunion was continual bonding and togetherness. The events were successful whenever each shared generously (brought food, shared with expenses), each showed mutual respect and each put others before themselves. I guess this is good advice for successful relationships in all of life, in all spheres!

He suggests that if the family is under 25 or so members, the first generation parents, if they are physically and mentally able, can continue to co-ordinate the event by organizing committees to take care of certain parts of the reunion. For example, one committee organizes the potluck dinner, another the games, another the program---and all report to the co-ordinator.

Keeping the younger set entertained is a challenge---parks work well!
Nathan Aardsma, Ethan Hall, Caleb Aardsma, Timothy Aardsma and Joshua Hall.
Photo by Laura (Aardsma) Gioja, Reunion 2006.

Mr. Wolfe suggests if you don't meet often, have the actual event last longer. For example, if you only meet every few years, then have a week-long event at a retreat center. If you meet every year, a one or two day event works well. He highly recommends a yearly event! His family does a whole weekend, starting on Friday night and ending with breakfast on Monday morning. The afternoons for both Saturday and Sunday are free time (folks can go to the park, or library, or a local museum, Matriarch can rest!, etc.). Sunday morning the families all meet together for family worship with many members sharing in the worship time.

Don't forget a group picture!
We are blessed with a professional photographer in the family,
my daughter Laura (Aardsma) Gioja.
Reunion 2006.

Establish the date well in advance, having it the same weekend every year so everyone knows to keep the calendar free for those dates, making it a family priority. In our family, which is growing by leaps and bounds, Gerald and I do not host any Christmas or other holiday events. We save our energy (and other resources) for hosting the "Gerald and Helen Aardsma Homecoming" every August. This frees family members to spend the holidays as they wish so that family events don't become too burdensome to them. This makes the reunion all the more special and has a better chance of all relatives being present.

He highly recommends including family comfort foods at your family reunions---things like my mother's famous Apple Betty. How about someone bringing the fruit salad that Aunt Ruth always makes for family weddings? Or someone bringing a big batch of caramel corn like was made for the kids every Saturday night when they were growing up? With good planning and all taking part, it makes for "much interaction and pleasure".*5

What about alcohol? He highly recommends a "no alcohol" policy, to avoid numerous pitfalls. Amen to that.

Mr. Wolfe has some good game ideas, themes and suggestions on where to have the reunion event.

Bringing out the really old family pictures is fun!
Can you guess who this is?
My maternal grandparents.
There is a sweet sadness
missing someone you've never met.

It all sounds wonderful, you say, but you don't know my brother Joe! If he comes he will make our family reunion "memorable" but not in the way we all hope! Mr. Wolfe deals with this issue in the book, which I guess isn't surprising considering he has had forty years of reunions! He is not talking about silly behaviors, idiosyncrasies (my elderly friend Mary used to say "We're all weird in one way or another!") or the occasional rude comment, to be taken with a grain of salt --- "Love covers a multitude of sins." The question is how to handle more serious, recalcitrant behavior.

Thankfully, people like this are in the minority, so don't let this keep you from beginning to plan your first ever family reunion and making happy memories that last a lifetime!

He gave some interesting advice. The leaders should already have firm goals in mind for the family reunions. They want to build positive relationships, create strong support for each other and to develop a sense of belonging to the clan. When the goals are clearly established by the leaders, this then gives the leaders

"authority when someone is pushing an agenda that detracts from the planner's intent. A well established goal gives authority when someone becomes belligerent...It gives the planners, usually together with other leaders, authority to explain the effect of the member's action and solicit a change in attitude. In the worst case, an invitation could be withdrawn. Most will tend to give the planners the benefit of any doubt." *6

I guess his leadership style worked, because over the years his family reunions developed into large groups of relatives attending each year. It is probably good to be prepared with his advice ahead of time, so you are not caught off guard.

"We believe that the strength of our nation hinges upon the strength of our families. We can influence our culture, one family at a time. May your family and ours have positive influence!" *7

A great, quick read! You can also visit Mr. Wolfe's website Successful Family Reunions.

My daughter Rachel Aardsma enjoying time with her
paternal Grandmother, Margaret Aardsma.
Photo by Helen Aardsma, Reunion 2009.

Come back soon!


*1 -- F. Wolfe, "Secrets of Successful Family Reunions---Have a FABULOUS reunion for Every Age---Every Time---Pass your values forward", Tate Publishing & Enterprises , 2008. The company reflects the philosophy established by the founders, based on Psalm 68:11 "The Lord gave the word and great was the company of those who published it." I like that!
*2 -- Ivid. p. 15.
*3 -- Ibid. p. 14.
*4 -- Ibid. p. 35.
*5 -- Ibid. p. 199.
*6 -- Ibid. p. 113 - 114.
*7 -- Ibid. p. 17.


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