Thursday, October 29, 2009

Make Time for Family

I always thought that I came from a pretty big family. Grams grew up with five siblings and dozens and dozens of cousins. But we lived about 500 miles away from the extended family, so we only saw them once or twice a year and then only some of them. For the past 30 years or so, I've only seen them at occasional family funerals.

When I married Grandad in 1975, I gained a huge extended family. Early in our marriage it was not unusual for complete strangers to ask "Are you related to Emil? or Monsignor Tim? or Ruth? or Sophie? or Henry?" At first I just responded, "I don't know, that's my husband's family." But as the year's passed and I finally began to learn and know the family members, I could answer yes and then explain the relationship. Like "he's my husband's uncle," or "she's my mother-in-law."

Seriously, Grandad's family is HUGE ... and more important, Grandad's family is close and caring and loving. As a new bride, I felt overwhelmed just by their sheer numbers. It took me years to learn names and faces. There were so many of them at our wedding, we didn't seat our guests by whether they were guests of the bride or groom. We just filled up the church. It would not be exaggerating to say that more than 75 percent of the guests were Grandad's family.

I have come to love them all and I love getting to see them. There are two reunions every year. In June, the extended Valenta family gathers for the "big" reunion. It's not unusual for the crowd to be over 150 people, all cousins, aunts and uncles. Then in October we gather for the "small" reunion. This event is only the direct descendants of Adolph and Louise Valenta of Corn Hill, Texas, my husband's grandparents.

This past Saturday, approximately eighty members of The Valenta Family took over the Moravian Hall in Corn Hill for our annual fall family gathering. We started with registration at 10:30 a.m. Everyone brought a covered dish meal for a pot luck lunch. There were door prizes and drawings. Organized activities included a fish pond for the kids, horseshoes, washers, bingo and a silent auction. Some played dominoes. We spent hours just visiting with each other and catching up on each others lives.

Lunch was a delicious variety of foods and, as usual, the dessert table was spectacular. There was enough left from lunch for us to share a quick dinner before we all headed home. The day always ends with the offering of a mass for the deceased members of the family at nearby Holy Trinity Catholic Church.

It was our little princess' first reunion and she was a big hit. She was the youngest baby there this year, and she got lots of love and attention. I especially enjoyed attending the reunions when my kids were babies. As soon as we walked in, someone would take the babies and they would just be passed around all day long. It was like a day off for me. I could see them but didn't have to tend them and I knew they were getting lots of love, attention and care. The little princess got the same treatment.

It was a gloriously beautiful fall day in central Texas. Small groups gathered outside under the trees to watch as others played horseshoes and pitched washers. And, in the Czech tradition, a fair amount of pivo was consumed. For any of you who may not speak Czech, pivo is beer.

This annual fall family gathering is my favorite get-together of the year. I really enjoy seeing the family "elders." Visiting with Grandad's uncles makes me feel almost like I'm seeing my father-in-law again. His aunts are beautiful, wise and accomplished women. They are 21st century women who cook, can, quilt and sew like their mother did.

Only three generations back, this family immigrated from Czechoslovakia bringing very little with them. They truly represent the American dream. As a whole, the family is healthy, accomplished and successful. Most of the members of my husband's generation have college degrees and good jobs. And they seem to genuinely like each other and enjoy spending time together.

A very close friend sent me an email this morning telling me that the father of a mutual friend died this week. She said, "This got me to thinking about how life can sometimes pass us by and how much I have missed getting together." I agree with her. It's so easy to get caught up in being busy and forget to make time to just be together.

Grams made it ... time to spend with family that is!

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