Monday, January 2, 2012

Family Reunions, Familiar Strangers

Great Grandmother Sarah

Happy Second Day of the New Year!

The first day of the new year was a quiet day for me and the little dogs, split between working on a publishing project or watching episodes of The Big Bang Theory. Considering I’d spent most of Saturday sleeping and reading, in recovery mode from my chest cold, I figured it was the least I could do. I had a very ambitious To Do list for a three day weekend. Oh, but my laundry is all done. Check.

I did spend time yesterday recalling the flavor of the first 18 years of  January 1sts in my life – the McKinnon Clan Gathering.  

In Scotland, New Year’s Eve is called Hogmanay. I have no doubt my paternal great-grandparents celebrated this occasion. They were married in 1893 but the genesis of the day I remember probably didn’t really get going until the eldest children had their families. I stand  to be – and most likely will be – corrected (Francie? Russell? Come on!)

Great Grandfather Lachlan

Whitney gathering 1914 (Sarah's family)

Suffice it to say there’s photographic proof from the 1940s of the family gatherings of the day.


The clan gathered twice a year: News Years Day and the third (or was it the fourth?) Sunday in July, down on the LK Ranch along the Bow River, the Home Place.

LK Ranch

Let me state here and now for all the members of my generation that these events were excruciating! We, the great-grandchildren, the third cousins, were familiar strangers.

Some of the cousins - those who lived closer together, whose parents visited each others homes or who attended the same school or 4-H events – we knew each other a bit better and tended to stick tight.

Most of us spent time together only at family events: January 1, the summer picnic and occasions usually pertinent to the sibling generation like landmark anniversaries, birthdays ending in 0 or 5, funerals (but seldom weddings, funny enough – I guess those were more ‘immediate family’ functions).

A few of the moms recognized the rebellion rising in our little chests as we got older. “But I don’t WANT to go!!! There’s nothing to DO! And I don’t KNOW them.” I hope that wasn’t just the conversation in our house. Pretty sure it wasn’t because we began taking games to pass  the afternoon while the senior generations –the siblings (our grandparents) and first cousins – visited, drank endless cups of coffee and noshed on Cousin Hazel’s goodies. Oh yes, I remember those. One time the Colwell’s (God, I hope I got that right; I have a memory of Wilda being involved) brought a projector and we watched slides and home movies of family past. I’m sure now it was Colwells because Murray always had a camera in his hand.

The meal was potluck although I vaguely remember there was some organization involved at the Cousin’s Meeting. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to call it a communal meal. Margaret Stewart always brought tomato aspic no matter what the schedule said – you know, at the time I found aspic to be quite revolting but long after her demise, I found myself wishing for a taste of it!

We always sang grace, the same one the siblings had grown up singing. Most of my generation didn’t know it – in desperation small papers with the words printed were furtively distributed for emergency use. Again, interestingly, when I was asked to say grace at a large formal dinner some 30 years after my last McKinnon Clan meal, I found myself singing that exact grace.

 Some waters run very deep indeed.


The picnics were much more relaxed. Sometimes members of the family camped out the night before.

Elaine, do you remember the time we made a rough tarp ‘tent’ to sleep in and woke up with the entire inside walls covered in grass slugs?!

There were games. Sometimes the ‘cool’ older cousins brought guitars – yes, Stuart, you were cool.

We learned life lessons, like checking through the gooseberries thoroughly before eating them. Who was sick besides you, Lorne?

Mostly we learned the importance of family, of connection and roots.

Isn’t it funny how many wonderful memories I have of occasions I had to be dragged to against my will?

I’ll tell you an interesting addendum to this.

The Clan gatherings eventually died out as the sibling generation all passed and the families became more dispersed through marriage. Every so often, though, my dad’s generation – the first cousins – plan a get-together. The last I attended was at our family farm and was the first (only) my children attended. I enjoyed it. My children tolerated it. Cousin Lachie was heard to comment, “I figured if I was dragged to these things against my will for all those years, it was only fair my kids suffered the same.” (See, I wasn’t the only one.)

We grew up in that environment, though, and our children did not. A few days later, my daughter said, “That was so weird. Seeing all those strangers who look just like you and Grandpa and Uncle Todd, Uncle Scott. Weird.”

No. Wonderful.

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