I shudder to think of the day that we Hamiltons (and Eslicks, Browns, Barksdales, Smiths, etc) no longer observe our annual lake weekend.
I’m sure it’s inevitable, though, as our other annual reunions evolved and, in many cases, petered out. The first to go was Easter. For a while, aunts and uncles all piled into Grandpa Bob and Grandma Nancy’s spacious farm house in Fayetteville, TN with their young children, and we spent a couple days hunting plastic eggs in the lawn, staining our fingertips with egg dye, and eating too many sweets. But growing kids, school schedules, and sparse vacation hours threatened the feasibility of the trip, and so we just looked forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas instead. However, my older cousins started going to college, getting jobs, and moving away, so their parents preferred to cherish their increasingly limited time with their kids at their own homes rather than spending most or part of it in a car on the way to Fayetteville. So Thanksgiving petered away as well. Finally, there’s Christmas, which has managed to mostly hang in there despite life’s changes. However, with the passing of Grandpa Bob and Grandma Nancy, we’ve sold that big beautiful farm house, and so our yearly raucous gift exchange in the wood-paneled living room has transitioned to a more orderly round of Dirty Santa and a big restaurant meal before we scatter to sleep at hotels and a couple smaller homes across the little town. The crowd’s a lot smaller, too, but we’re happy enough to see each other while we can.
However, the Lake Weekend has endured. It’s been going on since 1999, always the last week in June at Uncle John and Aunt Debbe’s place right on the bank of Wilson Lake in Florence, Alabama. This isn’t to say that this reunion hasn’t gone through its changes as well, but the core of it remains the same. We gather, have Aunt Debbe’s sourdough toast and Mom’s coffee cake, head down to the dock, ski and wakeboard and tube and jump off cliffs and sunbathe and swim and boat and talk and float and fish, go inside to eat barbecue, and do it all over again, finally ending the day with and one or five of the gratuitous dessert spread taking up two tables. The guest list does change each year depending on everyone’s schedules, but the grand total has held steady, with this year even boasting the biggest crowd we’ve had in years.
It’s a big weekend, as every non-resident cousin that has brought a boyfriend or girlfriend has turned that guest into a spouse, barring one new boyfriend this year, our first suitor with a European passport, whose marital status yet is to be determined. Rooting for you, Mark.
Ultimately, we measure out our lives with Lake Weekends:“That was the year Laura had her concussion” “Wait I couldn’t come that time--y’all had to talk to me over Skype” “Oh no, this was around the time that we went on the Monster Tube” “Pretty sure that happened in the The Stupids era” “You learned to ski that year!” and so on.
Last week’s Lake Weekend felt especially full-circle to me. Like I said, this was the biggest crowd in years, thanks in part to new spouses and newborns. This included three squishy infants, one fiery toddler, and one expectant mother, all with matching onesies and shirts that said “Cousins make the best of friends” (plus a COMING SOON for the baby-to-be’s momma). This was the first time we’ve had this many babies since I was one of them, so we got a small taste of what Hamilton reunions must have been like twenty years ago. It was especially fun for me, as I got to play with happy babies and immediately hand them off to one of their parents as soon as things went sour. Baby Grant did get a good yank on my nose piercing, though. The miracle of new life.
I hope I can continue to attend these weekends every year for as long as they continue, but as the last-born cousin of my generation, that means that I am the last to graduate and the last to jump into adult life. I’ve seen those before me get swallowed up in the grown-up world, and it’s very possible that I’ll find myself in the same situation. Being the youngest, I’ve always watched the familial changes happen around me, but now I’ll be a part of it. Fingers crossed, though, for flexible summers and many Lake Weekends to come. I want that next generation of Hamiltons to know their cousin Julia by name. There was also a joke going around that next year’s reunion will boast two European passport-holding suitors. We’ll see about that.