Column: Reunion games were painful in more ways than one

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 27, 2002

On neither side of my family were we much given to reunions. On both sides there was much &uot;getting together&uot; but little or nothing in the way of what might be termed a real, honest-to-goodness reunion.

There does linger in my mind a summer picnic involving my father’s side of the family, a group that for the most part loathed picnics. The excuse for this one, as I recall, was my great-grandmother’s 80th birthday. It was held at Goose Hill.

Goose Hill was not just one hill. It was a cluster of hills overlooking the Missouri River. I couldn’t lead you to it now, but back when I was young and energetic I used to ride to it on my bicycle.

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Attending the picnic that day were my great-grandmother’s four grandsons, their wives, and the current crop of offspring, four great-granddaughters. I was 10, two of my cousins were 11 and one was in her teens. It seems to me that there were three or four younger great-grandsons, but there may have been more. Also present were my father’s two sisters, one married with two sons; one unmarried and teaching sixth grade in one of the three elementary schools in town.

The one part of the gathering I remember with some clarity is the enthusiasm with which my schoolteaching aunt set up contests and games for her nieces, including me.

Not one of us was enthusiastic. It was in my mind that if it were not for this stupid picnic my immediate family would as usual be swimming at our favorite sand pit. My teen-age cousin had acquired a boy friend and would have been happier being with him than with the family. I don’t know what my other two female cousins would have preferred doing. I did know that whatever their choice it lay elsewhere. We were not clan oriented.

We were not particularly game oriented either. Aunt Mary, though, was not a woman with whom one argued. The games started quietly, since we had just eaten, with a spelldown, guessing games and riddles. Then we became a bit more active by imitating animals one at a time while our fellow sufferers guessed at which animal we were supposed to represent.

My aunt got us on track by going down on all fours with a cushion on her back to lope merrily through the grass. We all guessed &uot;camel,&uot; of course. But no, that wasn’t good enough. The word Aunt Mary wanted was &uot;dromedary.&uot; A camel, truly, but one trained to run swiftly.

&uot;And I was certainly going as fast as I could,&uot; she said reprovingly. &uot;If I had wanted you to say ‘camel,’ I’d have put two cushions on my back. Some camels have two humps, but a dromedary only has one.&uot;

So we all went on trying to portray Persian cats as opposed to plain domestics or bloodhounds rather than poodles. The imitations weren’t very exciting, but the arguments following each were delightful.

Aunt Mary proposed a new game. We would roll down one of the hills in the area. One at a time we would each roll and she would time us. Points would be added to our individual scores, by how well we rolled, how gracefully, no flailing of the arms or other wasted motions.

When you enter Nebraska there’s a sign that reads, &uot;Welcome to Nebraska, where the West begins.&uot; And where the West begins the cacti grow. On Goose Hill they grew in profusion, short fat green ones, with long sharp spikes.

The cautious one in the family, I pointed out to my aunt that if we went rolling down a hill we were more than likely going to roll into a cactus.

&uot;If you run into a cactus,&uot; she said crisply, &uot;It will, of course, take points off from your score. So don’t do it.&uot;

I’ve never cared much for picnics.

Love Cruikshank is an Albert Lea resident. Her column appears Thursdays.