Last week, most of my husband's family gathered at the family's home by the lake in Upstate NY. It is the same house in which my husband and his seven siblings grew up. It is the house in which my mother-in-law lived until the end of her life, even after my father-in-law died--and that meant occupying a large, sprawling, five-bedroom house all by herself for six years. But she loved that house; she used to say, "The only way you're going to get me out of here is in a pine box." It would have killed Mom to ever have to leave it. For the past eight years, this house has been known as "Grandma's House;" but Papa loved it just as much, and he worried that after he and Mom were gone it might be sold and go out of the family. To make sure this wouldn't happen, shortly before he died Dad made his eight children co-owners of the house. He needn't have worried, though; all eight of the Pearls who grew up there love that white Colonial by the lake almost as if it is a member of the family, and they would have fought to keep it. Following their mother's death two years ago, they formed an LLC with the sole purpose of maintaining and managing that property and keeping it in the family for as long as the last of the eight siblings is alive.
This house has seen so many family gatherings where every nook and cranny is filled with people of all ages, from babies to tweens to teens to adults. It's a big house, but the fact that so many people have slept there at one time reminds me of the parable of the loaves and fishes, in a way: the house always seems to expand to make as much room as necessary for the number of people that are staying there, and somehow, almost miraculously, we all find a place to rest our heads at night. One of my husband's sisters purchased the house next door some years ago, and that has been a huge help with the spillover, since our family has expanded yearly. As one of my sons put it once, "There always seems to be a new baby in our family." It's true! And now that the eight siblings' families appear to be complete (the youngest of the nieces and nephews is not quite two years old), my oldest son has brought two new baby girls into the family--and we are all looking forward to a whole new baby boom from this next generation!
It is so wonderful to have a place to gather that is all about family, where so many wonderful family memories have been created. I don't believe there is one of the 33 first cousins who will ever forget all the great family times spent at Papa and Grandma's house. And they will never forget their Papa and Grandma, who loved them all so dearly and always joyfully opened their house up to the chaotic masses that descended upon them.
This past week, during our most recent annual family reunion extravaganza (when 27 of the 33 first cousins were together at the house, ranging in age from 22 months to 26 years old), I managed to snap the two candid photos above. They were not staged; twice, I just happened upon kids sitting in what is fondly called the "Fun Room," looking through a scrapbook/photo album that contains old photos of Papa and Grandma and their parents and siblings when they were young, along with other family memorabilia such as old, yellowed newspaper clippings and wedding invitations. There are pictures of Mom when she was the "Rose Queen" at her college and Dad when he was a young Naval officer and aviator. There are pictures of Mom and Dad on their wedding day. These kids miss their Papa and Grandma; and looking through a scrapbook that tells the story of their grandparents' lives is as compelling an activity for two almost-grown-up boys getting ready to start high school in the fall as it is for a little girl who will be in third grade. I was so touched when I caught them sitting there, poring over those photos.
But how happy Mom and Dad would be to know that the tradition they started goes on! I'm sure that as long as any of their children are alive, there will be family gatherings at the house they both loved so much--and new family memories will continue to be made.