The six of us unloaded the minivan with our juice, 2-liter bottles, potato chips, pizzas, brownies, plates and napkins as we headed for the park benches closest to the basketball courts. The boys were eager to get through family prayer so they could inhale their food and shoot hoops or throw the frisbee around for a good hour or two to close out the Sunday afternoon. It was a frequent and unplanned practice of ours that I got from my parents, 40+ years ago.
I will never forget that day back in 4th grade, when someone from the school faculty came to my class and told the teacher I had to go to the principal’s office. After the barrage of “Uh-Ohs” and “Ooooooohs”, my teacher told me to put my books away in my locker. I was too young to think that anything bad had happened, even though I’d lost my grandmother earlier in the year. My church was right across the street from school and I can still remember looking up to see my friends in the classroom windows from the funeral. It was a beautiful feeling to see all of those faces, friends waving and giving love and support.
I arrived at the office to find my mother, waiting with my brothers and sisters. I asked if anything was wrong only to receive a collective head shaking from my siblings who had apparently asked the same. We left the building and met my father in the station wagon, who didn’t say a word. We didn’t ask either, but we were curious. My sister again asked if everything was alright, to which my father comforted that everything was fine. We didn’t ask anything else and played in the seats for a good hour until we arrived at a beautiful park, an hour away. We were in La Porte, Indiana, a place we’d never heard of until that day. It seemed so different from what we were used to. The grass looked greener. The area was quieter, almost completely quiet, with the exception of the singing birds. Even the air smelled different. In fact, it smelled wonderful. I learned then that that was a benefit of not living in a “steel town”, where the air and lights from the mill made the horizon a misty orange on the horizon at night.
My father and mother had already stopped at Kentucky Fried Chicken (back when the restaurant could legally call it that) along the way, but we didn’t touch it. We ate the lunch-meat sandwiches my mother prepared to keep us satisfied along the way. When we arrived, they took the chicken and other food items to a park bench before we prayed (which included more than just the blessing of the food), then we ate and ran loose for two hours.
Nothing else. Nothing.
Nothing except returning to the car and the drive back home.
We never asked why. All I remember is the four of us kids sleeping soundly after good food, greater oxygen and awesome family time.
That’s the practice I’ve maintained to this day. Oftentimes, we would invite my boys’ friends to come along and sometimes include other families. It’s REALLY a blast when we traveled to a Metropark and secured a barbecue grill (you have to do this early) so you can enjoy hotdogs/brats, burgers, ribs, etc. We eventually took it to the next level and played board games while listening to music.
You all might see it as a picnic. We think of it more like a reunion, even though the attendees are not blood relatives. A few years ago, we began planning an event where each family would invite two other families, rent a picnic zone and actually have a full-blown reunion of sorts. We went so far in our planning as to consider having T-shirts printed that said “The 1st Annual _____ Family Reunion”. There really was going to be an underline (_______) in the title. The backs of the shirts would show the last name of each family. If it proved successful, we would have done it annually. In the end, we decided to just keep it simple: get together and invite whomever we chose and have spontaneous fun. We might do the “Blank Family Reunion” someday, but for now, we just go with the flow.
I’ve also taken my family with me in the company car (which was permitted by my job) when I went to other work locations to conduct meetings, investigations and give training. Most often on Saturdays. This was Interstate Brands aka Hostess & Wonder Bread, so the depots and retail outlets were open and Route Sales Drivers had to work. I would expense a hotel room with a second bed and a few large pizzas, which cost about as much as a casual company dinner anyway, if not less (and mom always had a coupon). The kids would enjoy Friday night at the hotel swimming pool, then sleep in while I went to work for a few hours.
That Saturday morning, after I finished with business, I’d return and we’d check out around noon and head to the local attractions and/or theme parks. The most fun was King’s Island, which was 10 minutes from the hotel outside of Cincinnati. Travel and lodging for family time was on the company dime, which really didn’t cost the company any additional money. Even better, my boss knew and LOVED the idea. He too, believed strongly in family time. Oftentimes, he would call me, mid-day on Fridays and told me to pack it up and go home, if there was nothing pressing on my plate. Now HE was a good man to work for.
My point? Just as I learned from my parents, who believe there’s nothing more important than family: “Family time costs you nothing, but it pays off incredibly!”
(Well, not unless you include the cost of food, which isn’t mandatory.
But you better NOT ask me along without feeding me.)
So spend time with family, whether at home, the local park or taking a trip. Do this as much as you possibly can. That’s all I’m trying to say. If your kids are grown, schedule a get-together. If your siblings are spread out across the map, call them. Set aside a good hour and just talk “about everything, or nothing at all”, as I always say. But whenever possible, take a road trip and reunite EVERYBODY.
Time is precious and we never know what tomorrow brings, so I say again, spend time with your family. You won’t believe the memories you’ll create for your kids and more important, you will never regret using or losing time that you can never get back…
Cause family is everything, baby…
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