It’s a Hoosier tradition to spend at least one day in the summer standing around holding a paper plate full of gloppy pitch-in food and trying to figure out how you’re related to the bunch of maniacs you see swarming around a park shelter house.
Having just attended one and with another looming on the calendar, I am offering, as a public service, “Mike’s Guide to Surviving Family Reunions, 2015 Edition”:
• Don’t try to get out of it. You can’t. Someone will guilt you into it. It’ll either be your mother (“I don’t know how many more of these I’ll have left.”) or your spouse (“We go to your family’s reunion every year but when my family gets together and I finally have a chance to see my cousins again.”) or your brother (“If I have to do it, you should have to do it.”).
The one person who will not try to guilt you into going, if my experience is any guide, is your kid (“Do we HAVE to? I won’t know anybody. It’s boring. We never do what I want to do. Why do we even have reunions, anyway? It’s not like we didn’t see these people LAST year.”)
• Once there, smile blandly and try to remember you’re not the only one who feels lost. If you can, find a buddy and stay close. I recently spent a good while commiserating with – get ready – my wife’s father’s cousin’s kid’s husband, who knew even fewer people at the reunion than I did. We clung to each other like shipwreck survivors.
• Watch out for the food. By that I mean take careful note of who brings what so you know who to blame when you get food poisoning from macaroni salad that sat out of the cooler too long. You should also note who brings what so you can avoid the faux pas my brother nearly committed a few years ago, when he was about to warn a cousin against eating some mysterious brown stuff, only to have that cousin raise a big forkful, beam at his wife and say, “Honey, this is even better than the last time you made it.”
• Be sure to have thick skin when it comes to not being recognized at first by people you thought knew you better than anyone because in the crush and crowd of a typical Indiana family reunion, they may not be able to place you at first. This includes your parents.
• If your reunion is the type that serves adult beverages, stick to the mild stuff. Beer is safe in reasonable quantities, but remember the old saying: In vino, veritas, or In wine, truth. And as we all know from that time when Uncle Boober said to Aunt Gabby that she was getting a little broad across the beam, causing a rift that lasted for years, there are times when you have to be careful about not dispensing too much veritas.
There you have it. Follow these simple guidelines and you’ll have at least a tolerable time at your family gathering. And remember, it’s only once a year. Luckily.