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Second Wind: Meeting your gene pool in the park

Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city. So said George Burns. But sometimes we do want to see our families and get it over with all at once.

This kind of bulk processing of relatives is called a family reunion. Sure, weddings accomplish a gathering of the clan, but weddings add even more family into the mix – the in-laws and an extended clan of genetic mistakes who are now your relatives.

But bad relatives and all, we still sometimes want to dig into our roots and shake our family trees, if for no other reason than to see the nuts that come down. Or sometimes, for instance, we grandparents realize we don’t know our grandkids, so busy are they with school, soccer, baseball and play dates. And so we plan a reunion just because we have the stony-lonesomes to see our clan.



Now, if you are seized by the notion to get all the generations together, here are some tips for having fun, not fits, about the gathering.

• Date: Pick a weekend date, but not a holiday unless you choose that holiday way ahead. People make holiday plans early and may not want to change course to meet Grandpa’s brother from Altadena. If the reunion date is in a rainy month, make sure you have a back-up plan in case of weather. Umbrellas are not a back-up plan.




• Place: Pick a place that is not expensive. Maybe your house – at last, a reason to clean – or better still, someone else’s house. Or pick a public park and call to see what they charge, if they are free on your chosen date and what the ground rules are. No fires? No alcohol? Out by dark? What?

• Invitations: These can be done any way – phone, snail mail, e-mail. Get a net-savvy person to do a reunion blog so you all can look to see who’s coming. Solicit ideas from others on who should be invited.

• Food: Plan simple fare. If there are barbecues available, ask each family to bring its own barbecue entry plus a dish to pass. Have a vegetarian option. Delegate the fuel gathering, the sauce slathering and the burning food lookout to someone else.

• Comfort: Make sure there is shade, especially for the oldest and youngest. Bring sunscreen. Spray bottles of water are appreciated in warm weather.

• Entertainment: Get someone to provide visual aids that prove you are all related. Photo albums, a slide show on a portable computer, copies of the family tree – all serve to remind people that they are genetically handcuffed to each other. To some, these bonds are comforting, to others amusing or even a cause for alarm.

If you are older like me, you can entertain yourself by sitting back and looking at the quality of the people descended from you. It’s too late now for damage control, so relax into the game you’ve played as best you could – genetic roulette.

• Sports: Provide equipment for games or sports. Pick a reunion spot that has swimming, fishing, river-exploring or boating. Consider the corny indignity of potato sack races and other such antique amusements.

• Speeches: Go ahead and make one. But keep it short and don’t insult anyone unless it’s on purpose.

• Clean-up crew: Appoint one ahead of time so all the folks won’t walk off the set and leave the dredging to you.

• Think bigger: If you enjoyed a simple one-day reunion, remember that some families get together for longer periods at hotels, resorts, campgrounds and cruises. Don’t attempt this first time out into reunion waters. Wait and see how many bodies are on the playing field after a one-day affair.

More info. Get the whole scoop at family-reunion.com. Many other reunion sites will pop up with a search on Google. Read “Family Reunion Planning Kit for Dummies,” by Cheryl Fall or “Family Reunion Handbook” by Barbara Brown.

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The author of four non-fiction books, gerontologist Mel Walsh is the host of Second Wind (The Good Life After 50) on KVMR-FM, 89.5, Wednesdays, 1 p.m. Write Mel at melwalsh@aol.com or at 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, CA 95945. More info at http://www.melwalsh.com.


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