When I contemplate the numerous lessons I’ve learned from my father, none stands out more than the importance of family. Of course, he never expressly came out and said this to my two older brothers and I. Instead, it was his actions (and our mother’s) that drove this lesson home and helped me raise my own children.
In my family, occasions matter. My siblings and I live far apart from one another. Consequently, it is the celebration of milestones that bring us together: births, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, and funerals. The compulsion to attend these events is so strong that whenever a great aunt or uncle passed away, I asked my father if I should go to the funeral.
Living an ocean away makes attending events challenging, but many a wedding and graduation coincided with our annual trek home. Despite the addition of the twins and the challenges of air travel, we will make that trip again this summer so that my folks can spend time with the grandkids.
The annual Lay family reunion featured prominently in my childhood and often took place on the old family homestead outside the tiny outpost of Medical Springs, Oregon. It was there that my great-grandparents raised their brood of five girls and five boys without running water or electricity or, for that matter, much outside help.
Eventually, the homestead became an ideal location for the reunions that grew from afternoon picnics to three-day extravaganzas with over 200 family members in attendance. Despite only seeing our cousins once every or two years, we relished the chance to catch crawdads and brook trout in Beagle Creek, listen to our elders drone on with countless stories, and try to get away from the events the adults had planned.
With the passing of the last member of my grandfather’s generation, the ties that bound our extended family together have unraveled and the huge reunions are a thing of the past. However, the tradition carries on in my immediate family. Though we don’t call it a reunion, we gather over the Fourth of July weekend at our own “homestead” in Ashland, Oregon, where my brothers and I grew up. With only my parents, their three sons, eight grandkids, five in-laws, and the recent addition of a great-grandchild, the gathering is much more intimate but the lesson remains the same – family matters and we must make time to be together.
One of the truest expressions of this lesson came when my father’s closest aunt and uncle both passed away within one month. My brothers and I rallied to sort through a lifetime of stuff and clean up their home so it could be placed on the market. We didn’t wait to be asked; we just showed up and did what needed doing. The process brought us closer together and helped us honor the memory of our beloved aunt and uncle.
My parents have always been there for us and for their relatives; I can only try to impart the same lessons and values to my own children – not through words, but through actions. When the time comes, I hope my children will band together and honor the lessons of their forefathers.
Illustration by Sun Zheng