April Jeppson: New generations must keep traditions alive

Published 8:54 pm Thursday, July 19, 2018

Every Little Thing by April Jeppson

April Jeppson


“Our story began in 1902 when Charles Ekelund purchased 400 acres of land on Belhorn Bay sight unseen.” My great-uncle begins to paint the picture of how my Swedish ancestors moved in to northern Minnesota. Charles was my great-great-grandfather. My great-grandfather Rick passed away before I was born; however, I was fortunate enough to know my great-grandma, Ethel, mother to my grandma and my six great-uncles.

Email newsletter signup

Every year in mid-July the offspring of Rick and Ethel meet for an informal family reunion. Growing up, I went to every one down at my great- grandma’s place. I remember jumping off the dock, using an outhouse and exploring the woods. Being that my forefathers settled land about four hours north of where I currently live, I don’t always make it to these gatherings. Busy weekends, little kids  — it has been a few years since I’ve attended. I see my immediate family quite a bit, but not my second cousins or my third cousins twice removed — does anyone actually even know how to do that weird kind of family math?

There were about 60 people who came this year. Only two of the seven children are still alive. One was able to make it: my Great-Uncle Harry. He is wearing a plaid chambray shirt, suspenders and Wranglers. The ony thing that has aged is the man inside the clothes. Growing up in a small town, I knew most of my great-uncles pretty well. You might see them at school functions, the bowling alley, birthday parties, at any number of summer picnics. So when I saw this frail man, in his late 80s, I wanted to rush up and hug him, and that’s what I did. I didn’t care if he remembered who I was, or if he’d forgotten my name, I just wanted — no needed — him to know that I know who he is and I love him.

I introduced my kids to some of my cousin’s kids. They’ve met a few times, but at this age, they don’t really remember it. It took all of two minutes before they ran off to play with each other. In fact, I rarely saw my kids that afternoon. It was glorious. How come they can’t play this nice when we go to the park? I now want to have family reunions every weekend.

I have a ton of cousins, but my cousin Janel was my cousin. We were roughly the same age, and although we didn’t go to the same school, we bonded for life at family gatherings just like this one. She made me listen to Waylon, and I made her listen to Weezer. She showed me how to drive the four-wheeler, and I showed her how to apply makeup. We really didn’t have that much in common, except we had the same great-grandparents. If we weren’t cousins, we probably wouldn’t have become friends. But we were, and we are.

So when Janel showed up on Sunday, I ran to her. We sat down and talked and laughed and reminisced, and it felt so good. My Aunt Barbie, Janel’s mom, died suddenly last fall. It was the kind of death that shakes you to your core. Too young, too wonderful, too soon. While Janel and I were talking, another cousin, in her mid-20s, walks up, and they start talking. She also lost her mom suddenly, just over a month ago. As I’m watching my cousins, there are many moments of silence between them. These were some of the loudest moments in their conversation. You could feel it in the air, the bonding, the understanding.

Then it hits me how incredibly fortunate I am to know my family. These aren’t just names on Ancestry.com — these are real people. I have memories of playing Yahtzee with my great-grandma after school, and my great-uncles still make the best smoked white fish around. Better yet, no matter how much time passes and how much we change, we are there for each other. I can literally go years without seeing some of these people, and yet there’s an instant bond.

A lot has happened since I’ve seen some of these family members. I’ve watched most of it unravel on Facebook. Although I felt like I was staying in touch with my family via social media, it’s just not the same — it’s two-dimensional. Sitting at the picnic table, I can feel the tangible difference — the hugs, the laughter, the smell of fried chicken, wild rice hotdish and taco salad. My grandmother loved these picnics, so she could see her cousins. I always thought the internet was great for keeping in touch and that these picnics weren’t really necessary. I was wrong.

My kids come running over to the picnic table. They are sweating, having the time of their life and in need of water. Their cousins are standing about 15 feet away, waiting for them to hurry up so they can go back and play. I realize that my mother is the age that my grandmother was when I was playing with Janel for the first time. I see that it is up to a new generation to keep these picnics and these traditions alive. I open up my phone and schedule family picnic for July 14, 2019.

Albert Lean April Jeppson is a wife, mom, coach and encourager of dreams.