Today was the annual Gerber family reunion, which took place in the little town of Mt. Vernon, Wis., and a few miles from the farm my grandparents managed with the help of their 11 children.
Although it’s always nice to see the relatives, attendance at the event has waned significantly in recent years. When my grandmother was alive, hundreds of people would attend the event. Today, less than 40 showed up.
It’s not hard to realize why. Yes, gather a group of Gerbers in the same area and you’ll have more stubborn people per square foot than anywhere else in the planet. But, the real reason for the decline, in my opinion, is that there’s just not a heck of a lot of things to do, other than enjoy a potluck lunch and a few hours of conversation.
It’s hard to get beyond conversations like, “So, how are you and what have you been up to?” before it is time to go our separate ways once again.
Other family reunions are extraordinarily successful events that people genuinely look forward to attending, so much so that attendance grows every year. Just ask any campground owners. They’ll share stories about large family gatherings taking over the campground for a week or a weekend.
The idea of hosting a family reunion at a campground has tremendous appeal for several reasons:
- Rather than meeting for a few hours of superficial conversation, people get to actually spend time together during several meals, around the campfire or engaging in various activities.
- Children of all ages can find something to do, whether it is spending time at the playground, in the pool, in a game room, on a hiking trail, or biking all over the facility.
- An entire family “neighborhood” can be created where all the camping spots in one area are filled with family members. Children get to know their cousins, seasoned members of the family can share tales of growing up during a much different era, and adults can enjoy each others’ company by spending more than just a few minutes with people they haven’t seen in years.
- People with RVs can bring them, and people with tents can bring those as well. People who enjoy camping under just five stars can often find a deluxe cabin on site so they can be part of the fun without having to head back to a hotel.
- Most campgrounds have lodges, pavilions or activity rooms that can be used for card games, contests, family movie nights, long family discussions and as a way to keep the party going even during inclement weather.
- Dogs are welcome — so there’s no excuse for hearing, “Well, we have to go let out the dog.”
- Family potlucks won’t be the same when people can grill out and prepare delicious food right on site.
- Sweet talk the campground owner and he might bright out an old fashioned hay wagon to give rides around the park.
- Nothing beats reminiscing over a fire with the sounds of crickets and frogs providing background music.
- Even though they are part of a large group, each family still has its own “home” to retire to at night, a nap or just a break.
I have had the pleasure of being at several campgrounds during the past year in which a family reunion was taking place. The sounds of laughter filled the air well into the night. And, as the children met their cousins and built stronger bonds to their aunts and uncles, the appeal of continuing such gatherings will continue for generations.
Several members of my extended family lived on farms, so family reunions back in the 1960s and 1970s were often hosted there. The kids would play in the barn, take tractor rides, go fishing, play frisbee, run through sprinklers, have races, work on crafts or learn magic tricks from some uncle. Adults would gather for a round of poker or euchre, check out someone’s new car, regale war stories or debate who had the most chores to do when growing up. And there was always a table with food and beverages well stocked throughout the day.
With more people living in the city, there are few venues for such large gatherings — and local parks just don’t have the activities available to keep kids happy to parents can really relax themselves. The park we host our reunion in has a shelter and a “super safe” playground, which means it offers something to keep kids occupied for, maybe, 15 minutes.
Fortunately, there is probably a campground near you large enough to host even the biggest family gatherings to provide a cost effective way to maintain important generational family relationships. If family is important to you, consider starting a new tradition of the annual family camping reunion.