‘The Family Reunion, taken to a whole new (Henry) level’
Well, no one who appeared in one of my commercials died this week. (Are you still out there, Betty White?) Or not that I know of, anyway. So “HooHah” story it is.
Now let me be clear. The Henrys did not invent the “Family Reunion.” Family reunions have been around, oh, I’d say probably since the invention of Large Extended Families. No doubt some of you readers can recall sticky gatherings of seldom-seen aunts, uncles, and cousins featuring picnic tables laden with summer dishes like jello salads (urk) and glorified rice (yum). Games like Corn Hole (a real “thing”, I kid you not) and wiffle ball and sometimes even croquet would be played (though our “croquet” was decidedly non-Downton-Abbey-esque, involving lots of violent “sending” of opponents’, i.e. younger cousins’, balls, resulting in much wailing).
The other side of my family, the Petersons, had Family Reunions too. They even gave theirs an idiosyncratic name. I dimly recall attending something called the PAL Reunion in Belvidere Park. (This was in Belvidere, Illinois, the closest metropolitan area/gathering place for my farm-residing relations.) The “PAL” stood for, I believe, Peterson, Anderson, and Lindstrom. Yup, these were the Swedes.
Now, the Swedes did know how to have fun. But suffice it to say that their brand of hilarity was, well, subtle. The Petersons’ idea of crazy out-there behavior would be to have a second slice of raspberry pie. And maybe, if they were feeling really wild, they’d let you heat up their coffee. (Yes, they brought coffee to these reunions. Swedes never go anywhere without an adequate supply of coffee.)
Needless to say, these PAL affairs were alcohol-free, which could have been one reason they were so, well, sober. In fact, to this very day I can’t recall anything but coffee served at any gathering of Petersons. (Well, sometimes my Gramma P would have some Silver Tea, which was, I kid you not, hot water served in a tea cup.) Oh, in later years some of my cousins would furtively sip from beer cans during gift-opening at Christmas. And I remember one time when somebody brought a bottle of wine, which my Aunt Marilyn served in teensy-weensy cordials glasses. One bottle. For, like, 17 of us.
But even those sedate Petersons were raucous compared to those Wacky WASPs I married into. The Dude’s family has fun together (I guess), but I honestly can’t remember them even having a Family Reunion, much less one with an idiosyncratic nickname. Gosh, maybe they did and I just wasn’t invited (!)
But back to the Henrys (thank goodness). These HooHahs evolved from gatherings we used to call WCT, which was short for “Wayne’s Camping Trip”. Wayne, AKA The Dude, used to go camping with a bunch of buddies each summer. Some Henry would ask “when’s Wayne’s camping trip?”, I’d go “it’s coming up in August”, then take the opportunity of his absence to fill our Amagansett house with as many sibs and kids who could squeeze in. So we just started calling the gathering “Wayne’s Camping Trip”, even though there was no “Wayne” — or even camping — involved.
These WCT hoedowns were, in fact, pretty fun, until our numbers grew so that we were stacked like cordwood in my gosh-it’s-nice-but-wish-it-were-bigger-even-with-no-Wayne-in-it house. That last year we even had a nephew stashed in the stairwell.
So my Youngest Younger Brother Doug came up with a solution: we’d get together in a venue that could hold us all. Which happened to be, that first year and for a couple of memorable times after, at a former boys’ camp in Maine. This place had it all: mountains to climb, a lake (called, believe it or not, Lake Wayne) to swim/canoe/fish in, and a big ole main house where we could gather for meals and games and wine-fueled crazy nonsense, Henrys definitely not being teetotalers. Oh, and there were little cabins we didn’t have to share with anyone else (well, unless you count mice).
Now, I honestly can’t recall which of my sibs came up with the name “HooHah”. Could’ve been any of them, hilarious as they all are. And, speaking of hilarious, those HooHahs certainly were.
We had fun all day and all night too. S’mores were consumed after giant vats of industrial-sized-kitchen-brewed chili. Movies were watched on screens fashioned from sheets. (‘The Princess Bride’ was a big hit. I’d resisted seeing it for years, thinking it was a — yuck — animated kids’ movie.) And, of course, we played games — some silly, and some even sillier. One night we even gave each other (temporary, thank goodness) tattoos. This was back when tattoos were shocking and when we tried to get our kids not to have them. (Friend-and-Fellow-Mom Linda to her teen: “No, that’s not an anus tattooed on my ankle. That used to be a butterfly. And that’s what happens when you get a tattoo.”
We Henrys are still aHooin’ and aHahin’, I’m happy to say. Though the regularity of our gatherings has slowed somewhat — kids having grown and flown the coop and all. Why, we recently got together for a pretty darned good HooHah out West. I don’t have a Great Group Photo yet, though Nephew Phil’s Wife Jessica’s sister took one on the steps of the fab HooHah House that Favorite-and-Only Sister Laura found for us in lovely Gearhart, Oregon.
I promise to share that Great Group Photo — and maybe more stories if I’ve had enough wine. But, in the meantime, in closing, here’s one of my favorite shots, featuring the newest — and definitely most adorable — HooHah guest ever:
Amagansett, New York. August 2017