Uncles, Aunts, Cousins, Nephews, Nieces, Grandmas, Grandpas…we all have a few relatives whether we like them or not. Every Thanksgiving, since 1991 a family reunion is held in Asheville, North Carolina. This year we were in a lodge with dorm like rooms. Now, to set things straight this is my Dad’s Mom’s side of the family-the Gingerich side. From then until now, our reunions consist of three main things- food, hiking, and scum. If you don’t know what scum is, it’s a card game in which you try to win rounds by laying the highest card to avoid being scum. Usually scum is ordered to wear a ridiculous hat in his/her humiliation. The food is fantastic and of phenomenal taste! Let’s be honest, we probably think more about eating Grandma’s cinnamon rolls for breakfast more than anything else. Bags of Satsuma oranges sit outside the door provided by my grandpa’s tree every year, ready to be grabbed and enjoyed. There are so many things I love about our reunions that make them extra special. Whether it’s Uncle Jake singing a duet of “Long Line of Love” with Aunt Dawn, Uncle Nate strumming his guitar as he introduces a new song, hearing Uncle Bills contagious chuckle, exchanging thoughts with a wise great aunt, pileing in the car with the cousins to go to Wal-Mart and search for “hot” deals on Black Friday, heading to the gym to play an over-crowded game of volleyball, creating inside jokes and then laughing until your gut hurts, whatever it is, it’s what makes it “reunion”. The high and windy mountain hike is one of those traditions in which most everybody participates whether or not they are prepared. By mid way, some of us sound like a horse in labor as we try to maintain our breathing. Usually you get stuck with one or two people as others pass or as you pass them. One year I ended up with Uncle Jake and it was either keep up with his pace or be left hiking alone until someone else caught up. Needless to say, he didn’t bother stopping for many breaks. “You gotta keep a steady pace” he’d say as I struggled to follow close behind while maintaining my mentality to move forward. Cold air filling my lungs, heart beating rapidly out of my chest and legs numbly taking the next step. Uncle Jake is from Colorado where he climbs mountains regularly. As far as I remember, there are no mountains in Florida and the weather stays warm for most the year. You could say I was slightly out of my element. It was a hard climb but a good climb. The reward of making it to the top with your family gave you a sense of pride. It’s about the journey, and the view at the top is worth more if there was a struggle to get there. I am fond of this memory and many others. After dinner a few of us sat around the table discussing the whole “once removed” cousin thing. It seems every year you leave a little less confused about the family tree only to go back the next year and have the same conversation. During the night, you can find the few of us still awake invading the kitchen for who knows….left over pancakes, granola, a half tub of Breyer’s ice-cream. So here we are with our bowls of granola and such, munching down while we finish the last round of scum. Some of us stay up in the wee hours talking until we become delirious…so delirious that when you ask your cousin to bring you a cup of hot tea, they add a heaping amount of salt to it ( You know who you are!). At share time, when we’re all gathered in a circle taking turns sharing the latest in our lives, I look around in thankfulness knowing I get to call each wonderful face part of my family. I begin to feel a deep warmth of gratitude and a joyful contentment of belonging to such beautiful people. I love and value each of them. As I focus on the sweet faces, I am overtaken by a sense of pleasure and awe. We are all, every one of us, nakedly flawed yet still we seek the best in each other. We go beyond the mentality of “blood relatives” and nurture those as our own. We look beyond the fine line of family and expand the limitations on love. We are a family that strives to see beyond the dissapointments of one’s mistake, beyond the approval of outward appearance, beyond the standards of the world… a family that embraces, loves, mentors, encourages, forgives, and presses on. There is so much we can learn from each other. Every individual, old and young has something very unique that adds to the refreshing enlightenment of the presence there.