Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Aug. 28, 2009

The third Saturday in August

I have a theory that a family reunion can flourish only if certain key ingredients are present. One of those is numbers. I have five first cousins and husband Art has 26, meaning there is a much greater likelihood that enough of Art's family will want to get together to create a bonafide reunion than there is in mine.

Proximity and willingness to travel also play an important part.

And reunions are often triggered by some important family event, such as marriage, a milestone anniversary or birthday, or the death of someone who is seen as being one of the heads of the family.

The family is tied in an important way through that individual. Get-togethers may be incidental or to celebrate a birthday or holiday with that person. But with the death of that crucial person, the family members realize things have changed. That obvious link that bound them together is now gone. At some point, enough of them either agree they just plain enjoy each other's company enough to gather anyway, or they don't.

The Johannings did.

When Rita died in 1997, husband Ken remained as that connecting element. But that vanished two years ago with his passing. Somewhere between then and this summer, their sons and spouses decided it would be fun to have everyone together again.

Oldest son Dave and wife Jo hosted the affair in McPherson last Saturday. With so many present, some important milestones had to be noted. Husband Art recently celebrated birthday number 65 and was the oldest one there. The little kids didn't know how Art and I are connected to the family, but they are already birthday-cake veterans. So when a cake with candles was brought to him, they jumped right in, blowing out all the candles before he got to a single one. As soon as they were out, they plucked them from the cake and licked the frosting from the ends, giggling gleefully.

Dave had just celebrated his 60th in July. His oldest son Dave Jr. turned 40 in April. Brother Gary's daughter Von had just seen number 39 go by in the rear-view mirror, but wasn't particularly interested in celebrating that fact. Gary's twin daughters Jamie and Julie turned 30 last month. And if brother Jerome had lived, he and I would have celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary in early September.

As with all events involving a lot of people, there was some not-so-happy news as well. One item involved brother Kenny, whose wife had to work a half day Saturday so they couldn't leave their home near St. Louis until afternoon. That meant they had not shown up by the time we and many others had to leave. Another was the news that one of Jerome's nieces was separated from her husband.

But it was still a very good affair. Little girls with seemingly boundless energy jumped into and out of the pool so often that it made me tired just watching. An equal number of small boys kicked, threw or batted balls around the yard or chased after the girls with squirt guns. Older kids entertained themselves with card games. All the while, younger moms and dads watched over their kids, as the older generation - the one I am now a member of - sat around and caught up on family events or retold family lore.

Of course, there was also the food - hamburgers, hot dogs, taco salad, potato salad, baked beans, stuffed peppers, chips and dips, cakes, bread pudding, peach cobbler and more. No one has ever left a Johanning gathering without feeling as if they were going to burst. This one was no different.

But as the afternoon headed toward evening, that possibly defining moment happened. One person with a long journey in front of her had to leave and the question surfaced.

"What about next year?"

A short discussion followed and then it was settled. From now on, the third Saturday in August will be Johanning Reunion Day.

I think Ken and Rita would have been pleased.

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