familiar strangers

The two babies sat on the floor eyeing each other – relatives, yet strangers. The petite brunette, her back straight and stiff, stared pensively at the fair-haired, blue-eyed toddler with a year of growth and experience on her. Their uncertainty with each other reflected the distance, jobs and economic restrictions which force our family to grab opportunities to reunite whenever and where ever we can.

This reunion grew out of a simple request to have an Indiana granddaughter visit us this summer. We would pick her up at the half-way point – my son’s cute yellow house in St. Louis – where the toddler lives.
We planned to converge there with two cars, four adults and one teenager … until a tight budget negated the Texas grandkids going north to visit relatives at all this summer. I volunteered our van for a grandkid swap in St. Louis and agreed tents in the backyard would expand the sleeping arrangements the night or two we would be there.
The Texas girls’ father would ride along to take his daughters back to Indiana.
Now we had five two cars, five adults and three girls coming for a short weekend visit to the little yellow house in St. Louis.
That plan held until St. Louis called to say, “Just letting you know, your son has time off Wednesday and Thursday.”
We changed our plans and left early enough Wednesday to briefly introduce the Texas granddaughters to their newest Arkansas cousin. Way past dark-thirty, we tumbled into bed at the extended stay hotel. I did not feel up to camping out.
Thursday, the men and girls assembled a couple picnic tables to accommodate the weekend visitors and other expected summer parties. The girls set screws, fetched tools and held boards in place. After the mistakes repaired in the first table, the second one went together quickly. We were enjoying supper at the picnic table Thursday evening, when the folks in Indiana called. The married granddaughter with in-laws in Missouri had decided to come and visit us and her husband’s family. They all would leave Saturday morning early.
That made three cars, seven adults and three girls … until her sister decided to come with her baby and the count went up to three cars, eight adults and four children converging on the little yellow house that comfortably held two adults, one baby and a puppy.
It had officially become a family reunion.
The party grew. The need for food expanded.
My daughter-in-love smiled, “This is what I wanted to do.”
I began to regret not packing a tent.
Friday, the men weatherized the tables while the rest of us prepared and promised ourselves swimming as a reward.
Then the Indiana folks phoned to say, “we are leaving tonight after work instead of Saturday morning,” We set up our hosts’ tent – went back to sleep at the hotel while my son and his wife catnapped and waited for midnight visitors.
Of course, it rained and, of course, the tents leaked.

In the morning, five men, five women and five children sleepily smiled in astonishment at each other. The men and children went to the Science Center while the babies slept and the women chatted, cleaned up and prepared for the evening barbecue.
We fit perfectly around the new picnic tables, but we made room for the father of the youngest baby – who showed up in time for supper – less than six hours after finishing his job in Indiana.

The final tally had six cars parked out front of the little yellow house with three tents in the back yard and a party of 16 kinfolks.
We had come together, unexpectedly, unplanned, but definitely wanted.
The rain stopped long enough for fireworks and a campfire, but the microwave served as the campfire for the s’mores.

Sunday, we gathered up clothes, counted bags, cameras and kids, took down a tent, swept, washed and re-arranged the yellow house back to normal as much as we could before we left for church.
We ate lunch at a restaurant before driving off, relishing the wonder that we had done it – we had gotten together. Not all of us, but enough to sit there happily smiling at each other, astonished at seeing these familiar strangers once again.