I retired from banking at the end of 2015. Part of my retirement strategy was to find three free meals a week. My Three for Free Program has not worked very well during the winter months, but summer is much better. Summer is the time for reunions.
Reunion Season starts in June, peaks in July, and is pretty much over by the end of August. I wish we could spread that July concentration over several months, but I haven’t yet figured out how. Georgia Veterans State Park at Lake Blackshear is a prime location for reunions. I highly recommend it for your family gatherings, and I encourage you to schedule them during June or August.
Jane and I leave church on Sundays a little after twelve, then drive slowly toward the park. We’ve learned not to get there too early unless you want to help set up tables and chairs. About 20 minutes later we’re usually standing in line holding red plastic plates, asking folks we don’t know how they’ve been getting along.
Over the past few summers I’ve developed some guidelines that are quite useful. If you decide to start attending reunions of people you aren’t related to, here are three things that may be helpful.
Rule number One is to “Follow the Crowd.” I also call this the Twenty Plenty Rule. It’s important to go where the people are, where you can more readily blend in. I don’t stop at a place where there are less than 20 vehicles, unless it’s an emergency situation.
More people also means more food. It’s disappointing to find out that someone has grilled just enough chicken halves for those who responded. It makes me feel a little guilty to compete for a good position in line, especially if the crowd consists mostly of older folks. Competing for a spot near the front is also more challenging because of Jane’s impeccable manners. Unless she’s really hungry I have to tug on her arm to keep her from lagging behind. When there are fewer chickens than people even a polite hesitation can be devastating.
With a big crowd you’ll have more variety for the meal too. There’ll be chicken, ham, and maybe a plate of sausage or a pan of barbeque. There’ll be at least five vegetables, plus deviled eggs, fresh tomatoes, and a whole table of desserts. And there are always leftovers, which makes the trip even more worthwhile.
As soon as someone makes a move toward cleaning off the tables, I’ll jump up and offer to help. One of those nice ladies will inevitably ask, “Would you like to take a plate home?”
“Not for myself,” I’ll say, “but Mama sure would enjoy some of your good cooking.”
“How’s your mama doing?” they’ll ask, while trying to figure out who I am.
“Doing pretty well,” I reply, “just hungry all the time. The doctor says it’s the medicine she’s taking.” A sweet lady like that will grab a couple of plates and stack way more on them than I’d feel comfortable taking. She’ll cover them with aluminum foil plus send an uncut pecan pie along for dessert.
Rule number two is “Talk to The Texters,” the 4 T Rule. By sitting next to a texter, or any type phone addict, you can avoid being asked questions you can’t answer. Kids are ideal, but young adults will do. You may need to nod once or twice as a courtesy, but you won’t have to speak. Phoneaholics don’t want to be interrupted, which helps you keep a low profile and allows you to eat quickly.
Rule number three is “Don’t Stay Too Long at The Party.” It’s best to go late and leave early. If you rush off too soon, you’ll miss out on the leftovers, but there’s an element of risk in staying too long. That lesson came early for me. We had finished a scrumptious dinner when a young fellow of about seven or eight came running over. “My mama says she doesn’t know who y’all are. She wants you to show her where you belong on the family tree.”
I looked across the room and there she was, standing by an easel with a detailed genealogy. She was staring quizzically at me, while holding a black magic marker with the top already removed.
I said, “Son, I sure do wish we could stay and visit, but we have somewhere else we need to be. If you don’t mind, just tell your mama that we belong on the part of the tree that’s about to leave.”
Sometimes I wonder what part of the tree that lady put me on. Maybe we’ll find out next year.