This past weekend, I attended what has become an annual event but that I have been able to attend only a couple of times–the reunion of the Peterson family, descendants of Tobias Peterson.
No matter how often I’m able to attend these reunions, however, I always meet someone I’ve never known, or someone I’ve only heard of from other family members. Invariably, when I meet them, they always mistake me for my older brother Dale (one of the fortunate–or unfortunate–results of being a middle child).
I think that at this reunion I met more formerly unknown (to me) people than ever. Granted, a few of them were the young children of the people whom I only a few years ago viewed as children themselves, which means that I am aging quickly! I also met some people older than myself whom I had often heard about but had never met. That included the famed brothers Tom, Dick, and Harry. (Please don’t ask me which is which!)
As a natural introvert and admittedly the quiet one in the family, such occasions are not easy for me. They stretch me beyond my perceived limits. But I’ve come to realize the importance of getting to know family members and relating them to my broader heritage. They are the puzzle pieces that help complete the picture of the Peterson family. If I don’t get to know them, the picture will be incomplete. So I must force myself to go beyond my natural comfort zone.
Two of my cousins, John and Owen, have been the primary organizers of these reunions, which tend to revolve around the oldest surviving sire of the family, Gene. These cousins have outdone themselves in getting as many of us Petersons together as they can.
John organized the meal and opened his beautifully landscaped home for our gathering. And the weather cooperated wonderfully for holding the reunion in such a beautiful outdoor setting.
Owen has done extensive research into the family tree that has helped me (and others, I assume) to expand my own much smaller mass of information–and to correct erroneous information. He has also made available many heretofore unseen (by me, anyway) photos of various older family members. I came away this weekend with copies of several photos important to me, including the following:
Uncle Bob, who, when I was a toddler, wrestled with me and chewed on my ears;
Amos, who was the first pastor of the church where I grew up (although I never knew him);
Smith, who was first a rural grocery store owner and then produce manager at one of the large local grocery chains; and,
James, my great grandfather, whom I had never seen. In fact, the following photo is the only photo I have ever seen of him.
When family members are spread all over the nation, as Peterson families are, it’s hard, if not impossible, to get everyone together in the same place at the same time. Typically, it takes a funeral to bring everyone together, and that’s sad. My own children and their children, for example, are scattered from Wisconsin to Michigan to North Carolina. My brother’s family is scattered from Michigan to Virginia to North Carolina. My wife and I are in South Carolina. Everyone is busy, and it’s hard to get away from the busy-ness and make time for the greater family.
As a result of having lived away from the Peterson “base” in Tennessee for so long, those children almost feel no link with the Tennesseans of the past; therefore, they are reluctant to attend such reunions and feel like party crashers, strangers within their own family. The typical comment from my own children when I encourage them to attend is, “But, Dad, I don’t know anybody there!” All the more reason to go–and get to know your family!
This is what makes reunions critical. Families must force themselves to have such times of connecting and reconnecting, or they risk having the family ties die out. I’m grateful for the role that my cousins have played in keeping the family alive. We Petersons have a “goodly heritage,” and we must make the effort to keep the memories of that heritage alive even as we seek to extend it by developing our own family heritage.