Friday morning we flew out of Sacramento and landed in Cleveland Ohio that evening. We crowded into two cars - my parents, Richard and me, and my older sister and her family - and drove for over an hour through the eternal construction that is the Ohio turnpike until we reached a tiny little place called Lakeside. It's a private town, owned and operated by the Methodist church. It is a town that seems to have stayed in one place while the rest of the world passed merrily into the 20th century. It is primarily a summer place, filled with hordes of people and their children for a few months out of the year, renting bikes and swimming and eating ice cream and going to concerts and lectures and listening to the chaplain of the week each Sunday morning. And it is here, each year, that my mother's side of the family holds their family reunion.
It was a long six days, two of which were spent primarily on planes or in airports. It was, in a sense, a forced relaxation for Richard and I. We did a lot of reading. I did a lot of pretending not to think about all the things that lay in wait for me when we returned home. We did a lot of walking. We rented bikes. We splashed around in the murky seaweed-infested waters of Lake Erie. We ate a lot of ice cream. A LOT of ice cream.
We brought along our biking shorts and gloves, fully intending to take a few nice long rides while we were in Lakeside. Then we got to the bike rental place, where we discovered a lovely selection of bikes, all of the same model: one speeds, the kind where you pedal backwards to brake, and the handlebars are high and awkward to use. They were old and rattly - perfect, I suppose, for the people who haven't been on bikes very much lately and need something simple to just toodle around town. But not exactly what we had in mind.
We rented them anyway, and took a few short leisurely rides around the town, meandering down narrow streets flanked by all the cute little summer cottages with their screened porches. We also discovered that riding a one speed up a hill, no matter how shallow the ascent, is a bit more difficult than on a 21-speed, because you cannot downshift on a one speed. Oof. And it was a bit interesting at times as I forgot that you can't just backpedal on these things and I would suddenly skid to an unplanned stop. But it was nice to have them, even if we didn't really need our biking gear and even if they weren't exactly what we were expecting.
When we arrived Friday night we didn?t much notice the weather, it being nearly midnight. The next day, however, it was warm and humid. Not unbearably so, but enough to notice, and make us both grateful that our tiny guesthouse suite had air conditioning. Sunday, however, was unbearably muggy, to the point that walking outside was like walking into a lukewarm sauna. We went down to the lake and splashed around a bit, and then changed and dried off and bought our tickets for the ice cream social. We collected huge slabs of cake and generous scoops of ice cream and tried to find somewhere to sit where we could take advantage of the slight breeze from the lake. But after an hour or so of that it was more than we could stand and we escaped inside again.
That night there was a brief but impressive thunderstorm. Dad nicely came and got us in his rental car and took us back to the house that they were sharing with my older sister and her family and I sat at a table and put together a puzzle full of strange little teddy bears with my oldest nephew, who was a bit startled by the loud rolling booms of thunder. The youngest nephew is at the fearless stage and stood outside on the screened porch with his father, uncle, and grandpa, and laughed with delight each time the lightning crashed.
Afterwards Richard and I and my sister and her husband escaped into the cooler, humidity-free air to walk down to the ice cream parlor and take advantage of the nicer weather. And while it was still slightly muggy on Monday from the aftermath of the tornado, by Tuesday it was breezy and beautiful and back to what weather is apparently supposed to be for Lakeside.
The reunion was Saturday, which meant that we had to scoot off to a grocery store Saturday morning to find something to make for the potluck lunch. I perused the rather small vegetable and fruit selection, uninspired, then suddenly decided to make spinach dip. Richard and I searched for quite a while through the bread department to find a round loaf of bread to act as a container, and I chanced upon rainbow bread in the meantime. This loaf was heavily colored in swirls of dark pink, green, blue, and orange. It was the sort of bread only a small child could love. As a dutiful aunt I promptly tracked down my older sister to show her. The boys had sandwiches on rainbow bread the rest of the time we were there. My youngest nephew could have cared less, but the four-year-old loved it.
The reunion was smaller this year, since not as many could make it. My youngest sister and her family couldn't attend - my brother in law is off on a much-anticipated fishing trip with his father, and it was a bit far for my sister to fly with a rather independently minded two-year-old. My mom's youngest sister also couldn't attend, which meant that three of our cousins were also not there. But it was still a fairly nice sized crowd. Plenty of kids to keep each other busy running around, tossing water balloons and playing in the little playground in the park where the reunion was held. We all crowded close together for the required pictures, my uncle loaded down with cameras around his neck as he snapped shots on each one.
My older sister and I tried to arrange the usual cousins' night out, but this year we had no success. Most of our cousins were leaving the next day and had children they needed to deal with. And the one cousin who remained seemed strangely reluctant to try to plan anything. It was actually a bit bewildering to see the reaction. My aunt was, in fact, quite icy to most of us in the days that followed, including my mom, and none of us could really figure out why. I was a little disappointed, since I'd been looking forward to getting the crowd of us out on the pier as we had done in the years past, but I figure it's their loss, not mine. I had time to spend with my older sister and her husband instead, even though it might seem a bit ironic that we all had to fly out to Ohio to do it (they live only an hour's distance from us). We've never been exactly close to most of the rest of my mom's extended family simply because we all lived so far apart from each other, and perhaps they just have less and less interest in trying to establish a relationship. I felt more disappointed for my mom, to have her sister treat her so coldly. This particular aunt does seem to be prone to holding grudges against imagined slights, and is quite capable of holding them for years. It seems such an odd way for a family to react to each other when compared to how close my sisters and I are.
We'll be back, every few years or so, just because it's a lovely place and there is something about the pull of family reunions that makes all of us want to keep trying to maintain that link, no matter how tenuous. But I think my family may be a bit more guarded the next time we come to Lakeside, and less willing to try so hard to reach out to these relatives who seem so unwilling to return the gesture.