The third weekend in July has always been one of my favorite weekends of the whole year — next to Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

Traditionally for some 50 years the Groger family reunion has been held the third Sunday of July. It was a time the descendants of our grandparents got together to catch up on each other's news, reminisce about the past, and basically just enjoying being together for a few hours — leaving behind all the problems of the world and just relaxing for a while.

I always enjoyed the reunion because I knew the ones who came really wanted to be there — or if they didn't, they were good actors. We always seemed to have fun laughing about silly things, participating in an egg toss for all ages, and generally watching kids grow up.

Through the years we remembered the kids that fell in the mud and were so proud of how they looked — even their mothers laughed. Now these kids are grown and have kids of their own. But we still laugh at the mental image we remember from so many years ago.

Aside from sharing the memories and having fun, often someone would come up with a picture we have never seen before — and appreciated seeing for the first time. Or they would share some special memory we had never heard before — and enlightened us again about life when we were young.

But mostly it's just been a day of laughing, teasing, and trying to guess how many pieces of candy are in a jar — with the winner taking the jar of candy.

This year will be different, though. There will not be an in-person Groger reunion. The pandemic has canceled this year's get-together. It's not that we don't want to join our relatives. It's just that wearing masks and sitting 6 feet apart seemed to be a big barrier to enjoying the day — with no hugs and having to yell to be heard through masks. We often had to yell — but it was because everyone was talking.

But it's more than just not being able to share in the same way. It's protecting us from sharing something none of us want — the possibility of getting a disease, which is killing people. I know statistics show that 50 percent of those dying are over the age of 50; that means 50 percent are younger than 50.

We just didn't want to take the chance that any of us would be even remotely responsible for someone getting sick — or getting sick ourselves. We know we might not get the dreaded virus, but we decided if we were going to gamble, it would be with a lottery ticket, not with someone's life.

It's disappointing, of course. I know there are others who also have canceled family reunions and other special events, which we all love to attend.

But, as my mother used to say, "this too shall pass," and I am sure it will.

In the meantime, I will spend Sunday thinking about all those I usually see and saying a prayer for them and possibly contacting them on Facebook or by phone. I hope when I do all the family news I get is good — or at least if it's not good now, it has a good chance of getting better.

I will rejoice over the fact there is family that cares enough to come to reunions — and I can still be in contact with them.

We just won't throw any eggs, laugh at silly things and enjoy our time together.

But, as the old adage says, "There's always next year." I 'm sure we will all have stories of how we "survived" the pandemic.

I also hope that then the pandemic will be part of history and there will be a vaccine for it and anything else that comes along.

And our family along with others can once again celebrate in person the family ties that have been keeping reunions going for decades.

Jean Shanley is retired from The Meadville Tribune where she was communities and society editor.

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