The gift of family

By Helen Row Toews

July 7, 2017 12:01 PM

Family reunions spring up everywhere over the summer months, particularly on the farm.
Gatherings in the countryside allows folks enough room to park a holiday camper, start an impromptu game of softball, or at least let kids and dogs run and play without the boundaries of streets and traffic.
For some people, it’s the only chance they’ll ever get to experience a taste of life on the farm, and their visit can, at times, turn into a guided tour.
For others, it’s simply an opportunity to kick back and relax with loved ones who are otherwise only seen at weddings and funerals.
Perhaps, in our case, a couple of enterprising hunters will bring along a gun and knock off a few gophers during their stay.
Yes, it’s true, we’re hosting a family reunion this July, and preparations have begun to ensure everyone has a fabulous time.
One of the main components, in my mind at least, is the food. Many moons ago I began labouring over elaborate feasts for friends and family.
I’d fall asleep at night with a cookbook clutched in my weary hand, while hastily scribbled notes, and meal plans lay scattered about the house on whatever bits of paper I could find at the moment.
The backs of envelopes were pressed into service, Aliyah’s schoolwork was often returned to the teacher with recipes for things like Creamy Garden Slaw scrawled on the back, and ingredient lists were plastered across bills and tax returns, making them pretty much illegible. Tom would sit at the table, waving rumpled papers in my face with exasperation, “Helen! What the heck do we owe the phone company? Two cups of finely grated carrots?” But I digress. All these culinary creations foolishly set a precedent, and now people arrive at my home with expectations – rats.
Not every dish has turned out as well as expected either. There were the Parmesan Salad Cups that presented themselves in a glossy magazine photo as being “easy as pie” to prepare.
For a start, I’ve never found that making a good pie was all that simple, but in the picture, a beaming, and beautifully appointed, woman bore them to a table of enthusiastic guests who applauded their arrival.
They sat on tiny white porcelain plates (the cheese cups not the guests) looking like lacy vessels of toasted cheesy goodness, as they brimmed with an assortment of spring greens. My efforts were not nearly so lovely.
The cheese stuck angrily on my baking sheet, refusing to come quietly. Once pried up, none folded effortlessly around the glass that was used to form the bowl-like shape; they chose instead to stiffen and stick out at right angles like disobedient children told to finish their peas.
Needless to say, there was no cheering as I hurriedly dumped each one in front of a startled guest. While tasty, they resembled a brown matt that’s been left to sit outside in the rain too long and begins to curl up around the edges under the summer sun. 
Back to reunions, I know Dad enjoys these events to no end. He spoke of it only last night, clapping me on the back with a resounding thump and grinning broadly. “It’s gonna be great to see everyone again hey Helen?” I peered at him through bleary eyes, images of cakes and pies super-imposing themselves over his face. “Yeah, great,” I repeated with a trace of bitterness. It’s all very easy for the patriarch I must say.
The man who only has to throw on a smile, a clean shirt, and scuffle 43 feet in his bloody bedroom slippers to attend the whole shindig!
Nonetheless, it will be fun, and most of me is looking forward to it. We have fine musicians in the family which will brighten up evenings spent around a blazing fire. My son Justin Walker plays fiddle, guitar and harmonica with skill, and sings an eclectic repertoire of songs.
Uncle Don Gessner has an old-time country band in Manitoba, and his music has entertained groups for many years.
Family will join together with love and laughter, hugs and a few tears, while special memories are forged and acquaintance will not be forgot. As we draw closer to the warmth of the flame and reminisce about loved ones who join us in spirit only, we are thankful for this time together. Family is a gift.

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