The family reunion

Summer is a season when families like to get together. The wonder is that they do not at the same time break up! A summer reunion is not just for a day or a dinner; it is no such fleeting occasion as Dylan Thomas described so unforgettably in A Child's Christmas in Wales.m "Were there uncles in those days?" one of the characters inquires. "Yes, there were uncles," is the faintly disillusioned reply. "Always the same uncles." It is not only that the same uncles gather in July or August, but the same cousins, the same brothers and sisters, the same grandparents.

If the family house is large, preferably in a forest or by the sea, the rituals of the clan may run for weeks on end. At their close everyone is exhausted. Fair days have brought out the members on mountain climbs and sails and picnics. Rainy days, while providing relief from these strenuosities, have afforded distractions of their own hardly less calculated to test human endurance. Among the latter have been charades, table games, puzzles, practical jokes, and often one-act dramas staged at the foot of the large staircase.

The large staircase that I particularly remember rose to a sort of balcony, encircling the living room and running past doorways of the upstairs bedrooms. This architectural arrangement had the effect, no doubt unforeseen by the builder, of subtly moralizing and disciplining the young. For after bedtime the doors upstairs could have been discerned opening a crack, and then boldly wider, as small figures advanced to the balcony rail. Conversations overheard from below were full of instruction and admonition. One of the younger generation, it seemed, was becoming something of a showoff. Another was trying the patience of her aunt.

Guilty as we were to be at our upstairs listening post, we could not object or expostulate, but must listen in silence to these reflections upon our conduct , often interspersed as they were with unexpected praise or perceptions of hidden virtue.

I don't know whether children of this generation have ways of receiving so unobtrusively the wise opinions of their elders. I get the impression that the flow runs the other way, with the grown-ups (or what we used to call "the groans") benefiting from the observations of the young. In any case a certain degree of interaction is essential at any family reunion. It may be painful for young and old alike, but it is a wonderful restorative of patience and sanity, and better than a new year for forming good resolutions.

As we grew older in that long ago, advancing through school and college, we each acquired a role in our individual worlds; we assumed as more or less fullfledged people the status and dignity we would display in later life. In summer, however, such disguises were shed. Back among the clan each was on his (or her) own; reputations, good or bad, were forgotten. In a universe of absolute equals, where every pretense was seen through and every affectation laughed out of court, we could fall back only on such native wit or good humor as we had -- on such swfitness or philosophy or strength -- to ensure our standing in the family group.

Perhaps I emphasize too much the character-forming aspects of the family reunion. I may have struck a wrong not when I spoke a while back of the reunion as being exhausting, or of its experiences as painful. It is the ease and joy of it that remain in memory at the summer's end. I often suggest to my own sons that they return more or less singly, so that my wife and I can really talk with them, or that I may sail with them one by one. It never works that way. It is each other they want to see as much as these later "groans." Falling together like puppies in a litter, they tell the old stories and sing the old songs.

In vain I protest, declaring that I would like to hear some newm songs. This younger generation knows what it wants: the feelin, if only for a week or so, that youth is perpetual and the relations of life unchanging. The young are probably right and, in the light of eternity, what they seek is probably so.

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