WHAT HAPPENS WHEN you take two city-bred, sophisticated teenagers and plunk them down in the middle of a family reunion of Midwesterners? That was the question I asked myself as I prepared my two children, Graham and Raisa, for their first family reunion.
Living in southern California, my children are accustomed to new experiences. From the time they were small, my husband and I introduced our kids to Shakespeare productions, concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, Broadway shows, museums and art galleries, and as many cultural events as our time and budget would allow.
But this was a little different. We would get "up close and personal" with my extended family in the Pacific Northwest coastal town of Port Townsend, Wash. So on a warm August weekend, the kids and I headed off to meet the rest of the clan. There would be no television, few outside distractions, and lots of relatives.
We were to share a home with my mother and stepfather, as well as my grandparents. My sister and her family would be next door with another aunt and uncle.
"Exactly what is going to happen there?" Graham asked before we left.
"I'm not sure," I said, "but Grandma and Grandpa will be there, and all the aunts and uncles, and a whole bunch of people we don't know yet."
"What will we do?"
"Oh, they have lots of activities planned," I said enthusiastically.
Raisa didn't look convinced. "It'll be boring," she pronounced.
Our first evening together, about 100 of us sat down, community-style, to a dinner of overcooked pork chops and rice. This for kids who were accustomed to eating ahi sashimi and chicken vindaloo. They looked longingly at me.
"It's middle-American cuisine," I muttered. "Eat it."
Afterward, it was time for games. That meant cards, Clue, and dominoes. Or throwing Frisbees on the lawn. My kids rolled their eyes.
"C'mon," I pleaded. "Just give it a chance."
Among the men, my son found people who enjoyed trucks and motors just as
much as he did. (My husband is uninterested in anything automotive).
Graham spent hours with them, discussing truck maintenance, detailing, and engine power. They swapped corny jokes.
As one of the older cousins, Graham was admired by the many youngsters and frequently sought for his wise counsel on such important matters as how much bend there should be to the wrist when flinging a Frisbee.
My daughter shares my love for practical jokes, and accompanied me and her aunt on missions to short-sheet beds. And the board games that had earlier provoked eye-rolling were becoming more interesting as well. "Hey," Raisa announced one evening when she was engaged in a particularly challenging game of dominoes, "this is more fun than playing solitaire on the computer."
She also impressed her cousins with her vast knowledge of movie stars' lives.
In the evenings, the adults would all gather, catch up, and tease one another. My children were all ears - when they weren't playing flashlight tag or, in my son's case, inspecting somebody's new boat or jacked-up truck.
It's true that there weren't any opportunities to visit world-class museums or art galleries. But watching the tide rise and recede in Puget Sound has its own beauty. And spying a doe and two fawns crossing the street is something we don't often see in our urban environment.
Sharing laughter and food with people who have known you since infancy warms the heart and soul.
And having your mother demonstrate how to quickly and efficiently short-sheet a bed is priceless.
Valerie Orleans lives with her two teenagers in Anaheim Hills, Calif.