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Columnist
Reunions a way to keep family ties strong
Air Pockets
By Gail Todd | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 8/1/2009 9:12 PM

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Last week our extended family, numbering 47, congregated on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts to celebrate the 100th birthday of the matriarch of the family. Nineteen second-cousins ranging from 3 months to 17 years went from being strangers to best friends. We jumped waves, picnicked on the beach and licked crumbs and frosting off our fingers while singing "Happy Birthday" to the grande dame. However, getting to the party was no piece of cake.

The Chicago contingency included five children under the age of 4. We awakened babies at 4 a.m. to catch a 7 a.m. flight to Boston. And the babies cried. We piled them into a 12-passenger van, drove two hours to wait three hours for a ferry. And the babies cried. We bounced on a rough sea for an hour. And we all cried. Who ever said, "Getting there is half the fun," clearly was not a member of this clan.

Because of the nomadic tendencies of today's families, reunions have become a popular way for maintaining strong family ties. But they're no longer just the potluck gatherings on the old family farm. According to travel agent Judy Barr, destination reunions are becoming as popular as destination weddings. And planning a successful reunion requires as much work as planning a successful wedding.

Barr has arranged family reunions for large groups to places like country manors in Scotland and the vineyards of Sonoma, Calif. And the success of each reunion demanded attention to the details. Here are some things to consider.

• Cost: If Grandpa is willing to foot the bill, and the sky is the limit, price isn't an issue. But in today's world that's usually not the case. So it's important to find a place the entire family can afford. The Malone family of St. Louis, Mo., rent two large cottages on Lake Michigan every year before the high season rentals. The cottages are within driving distance for all the relatives and they divide up the cost of room and board.

• Ages: While a vineyard might be great fun for the 30-year-old set, it might not set well with teenagers. Be sure there's something available that's entertaining for the whole family. When the Cowden clan, now numbering near 50 plans their annual reunion, they choose a place that has a pool or beach. "We've got all ages," Jean Cowden said. "And a beach or a pool offers something for everybody." The Cowdens also consider nearby activities and try to find educational as well as entertaining things to do nearby.

• Ease: If some family members need to travel long distances, a location near a major airport can relieve a lot of stress. Condominiums or cottages with cooking facilities allow families with young children to keep tantrums and food costs at a minimum. One family plans their annual reunion at a dude ranch, which is an easy drive from the Denver airport. The resort has activities geared to all ages and a restaurant just for kids.

Every year I receive an invitation to the Ryersy family reunion held on a farm in upstate New York. Apparently some third or fourth cousin discovered I'm part of the clan, although I've never met any of them. The group numbers close to 300 and they all bring their own picnic lunch. According to the invitation, Auntie Mildred will again bake her famous banana-cream pies, which apparently are the best in the world. I'm tempted to go - if not for the pie, at least to see if anyone has my nose. But it would take me two days to get there. It's nice to know the down-on-the-farm reunion is still going strong though and isn't just pie in the sky.

Gail Todd, a free-lance writer,worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached via e-mail at gailtodd@aol.com.