Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

My sister and I inherited from our mother a strong sense of family connection. Mom told us stories of her childhood in Edgemont, South Dakota and made sure that we knew not just aunts and uncles and grandparents but great aunts, great uncles, and great grandparents. Family was so important to her that we would spend many of our summer vacations either traveling to Southern California to see her mom and stepdad or to Hot Springs, South Dakota to see her dad and stepmom.

Family reunions didn’t happen often, but we did all get together in Southern California one Christmas when I was young, and most of the family met in Reno one year when one of my great uncles was undergoing bypass surgery. In 1996, my mom had her grandmother, my great grandma Terry come stay with her for a little more than a month. To coincide with her visit to Boise, mom organized a family reunion. My great grandmother’s younger sister even made the trip, and we had a huge group of people gathered.

Shortly afterward, my great grandmother died during an angioplasty procedure at the hospital in Southern California. My mom decided that family reunions had to happen more often, and took it upon herself to do the planning and most of the work to keep our growing family close. Because great grandma and great grandpa were buried in Fallon, Nevada, we chose that as the location for the reunion, to honor the legacy they created.

Mom continued to plan annual reunions well into her battle with cancer, but the last year or two that she was ill, she simply did not have the energy to make it happen. Without her doing the planning, no reunion was held. In fact, the last time all of the family was together was for her funeral in 2006.

With a deep desire to somehow continue her legacy of keeping family close, I attempted to plan a reunion from New York to coincide with our trip West. Because we had family that could not travel away from home, we decided the reunion could only be where they were – Hermiston, Oregon. I don’t have my mom’s talent for planning and strategizing, and was limited by distance in making too many hard plans, but I was able to arrange discounted rooms at the Oxford Suites in Hermiston (thank you, Lindsay, for your help in making this happen) and pulled together a couple of group dinners. My aunt Lori (my mom’s sister) helped find a park for us to spend a day.

Only 24 of us were able to make it to the reunion. To be honest, I’d been hoping for more people, but some of the older generation were too ill to travel and some of our generation decided it was too far to come. For those of us who were there, though, it was a magical weekend of reconnecting. More than that, it was cathartic for those of us who were still holding on to the pain of the loss of my mom. When she died, so much stopped and so much more changed.

Our kids were in peril of growing up not knowing each other the way we’d known each other as kids – and seeing them interact made us realize how critical that family connection really is. Even not being around each other, the kids shared family values, personality traits, looks…they knew just by being together that they belonged. My cousin Daron and I have made a pact, though. From now on, we’re having family reunions every three years. The next one is the third week of July in 2015.

Today, Doug and Tiana and our family caravaned together from Portland to Hermiston. We stopped at Pizza Hut for lunch (our respective husbands finding another thing in common in their mutual detest of Pizza Hut pizza, while my sister and I simply enjoyed the feast). Just as we were finishing, we called the local great aunt and uncle who live in Hermiston and discovered they were across the street at Dairy Queen with our two uncles. The family reunion began at Dairy Queen, continued at our hotel (conveniently located next door) and went into the night.

It was wonderful.