As summer comes to a close and we consider school days and fall leaves, our family has one more special occasion. The family reunion – a long-loved tradition.
My folks were raised in Sisters, Oregon, so we had relatives nestled around that area. At first, our reunions were in Central Oregon, beginning at the Wickiup Reservoir, located sixty miles southwest of Bend. My parents were camp hosts there for several summers and able to arrange places for everyone to camp close by. Usually, my immediate family was first. Then, a day or two later, a cousin’s camp trailer arrived. Next, an uncle and aunt pulled in, and so on until each family was tucked into a reserved spot. By the weekend, we were a bustling community.
Daddy always brought his metal fishing boat with its humming Evinrude outboard motor. He took the kids for rides and we all did some fishing out on the lake. Never a good fisher-gal, I once threw in my baited hook on the right side of the boat, getting no bites at all, while my sister-in-law caught fish after fish on the other side.
An hour later, she took pity and we switched. I caught zero fish on the left side of the boat while she reeled them in on the side I’d just abandoned. It was a puzzle I never solved. (And possibly the start of my cozy mystery writer career.)
The family reunion meant so much to Mother and Daddy. All anticipation as the date approached, it was a not-to-be-missed event. They eagerly loaded up their camp trailer, checking off needed items. Mother mentally gathered the ingredients for her popular “Beans in Abundance” dish for our feast day.
“Oh, I have to make it,” Mother would say. “It’s always requested. I don’t want to disappoint anyone.”
If not for my parents and my cousin Bob, the reunion would have receded. But they kept it alive because it was so important to them to follow up with family, wherever they scattered. Not everyone could make it every time, but the reunion went on, year after year. The location changed to a big picnic on the Deschutes River in Bend. Then moved out to Sundance Ranch for a number of years where my folks had a time-share. We stayed in the bunkhouse and played cards into the wee hours. Or sat around the campfire, swapping stories.
This year is our thirtieth reunion year in Bandon-By-The-Sea, on the Oregon Coast. My cousin has made room for us to come and camp in a clearing on her forested property.
Now when I think of the reunion, I also remember how we paid tribute to Mother the summer after she changed her address to heaven. Everyone she loved best was due in Bandon, so the family decided to have a goodbye gathering in her honor there, under the pines. My brother gave a sweet eulogy. At the end, my daughter Heidi and I passed out the cookbooks we’d created on Shutterfly, with my mom’s favorite dishes inside. We titled it Cooking By Heart. If only she’d been there to see it! She would have hugged that book close, happy tears trickling down her cheeks.
Afterward, we adjourned to enjoy the usual potluck delicacies. Mother would have been tickled to see a pot of her famous “Beans in Abundance” bubbling on the stove. Cooked by cousin Carol, who continues to make it for our yearly gatherings in her Auntie Evelyn’s honor.
At last, I have my own signature dish, “Chuck Wagon Tortilla Stack.” First tasted at a card party potluck. It was a wow. Now it is my go-to. So easy and so yummy, a young relative called it crack-in-a-pan as she went back for seconds. High praise! (I think.) I plan to make it again for the upcoming reunion. Fingers crossed for more equally enthusiastic, culinary reviews.
Time has gone by and so much has changed. But still, the constant love of family calls me back to beautiful Bandon each summer. To answer the call of our reunion, an irresistible tug on my heart.