By Barb Arland-Fye
Watching 78-year-old Grandpa Ray do “cannonballs” off a pontoon boat, and his sons and grandsons trying to outdo him, made this family reunion particularly memorable.
How long can Grandpa keep this up? Or even his sons, for that matter. Two are in their 40s and one is in his early 50s.
But on a muggy Sunday afternoon those questions didn’t require an answer. What mattered most was that family — Grandpa and Grandma, three of their four children, their children’s spouses and their grandchildren — were enjoying each other’s company.
Whatever hassles it took to gather this clan were forgotten as they frolicked in the water and splashed those sitting on board, or got back into the boat to fuel up on sandwiches.
The Catholic Church calls the family “the domestic church,” and even though this family wasn’t praying on board (except perhaps as the oldest brother eased the pontoon into a slip in a crowded bay) it certainly seemed like a sacred time.
“The family exists at the heart of all societies. It is the first and most basic community to which every person belongs,” wrote the U.S. Catholic bishops in a pastoral message to families to mark the United Nations’ 1994 International Year of the Family. The bishops quoted Pope John Paul II, who had observed that “The future of humanity passes by way of the family” (On the Family, no. 86).
As the oldest of the four children in this family, and a journalist, I feel compelled to capture its essence, to bottle it and savor it. For our parents’ 50th wedding anniversary four years ago, I interviewed each family member and wrote a history. Everyone received the finished booklet, which included snapshots of memorable and ordinary moments.
Truth be told, I wasn’t looking forward to this reunion because of three, nearly back-to-back commitments that consume many miles and hours on the road. But how can you turn down your mother? Especially when she has a hopeful tone in her voice assuring you that, yes, it will all work out for the best.
So the commitment was made — my husband Steve, our two sons and I— packed the swimsuits and headed to the Twin Cities. For me, it turned out to be a journey tracing the places and reflecting on the people that shaped the individual I’ve become.
Because of a change in hotel arrangements, we happened to be near the parish I grew up in, Nativity of Our Lord. I convinced Steve and the boys to go to Nativity for Mass on Sunday morning before the reunion in another part of the Twin Cities. My youngest son, 16-year-old Patrick, had never been to Nativity. Colin, 24, had been there 21 years ago for the nuptial Mass of my youngest brother.
Being at Nativity brought back a flood of memories: attending the parish school, going to Mass with my parents and brothers on Sundays and on holy days of obligation with my dad. A photo hangs on the wall in Steiner Hall of the beloved former pastor, the late Msgr. Clarence Steiner, who served 50 years at Nativity. It was good to see his image again and resurface more memories of what it means to be family.