Jia – family, house, home. In Chinese, it was all one word.
As you might know, A Thread of Sky was inspired by a family reunion of my own, a tour of China with my mother, my sisters, my aunt, and my grandmother in the summer of 2000. You can see us in the photos above, at Huangshan, Hangzhou’s West Lake, and the Great Wall.
For the April 2011 paperback release of A Thread of Sky, I hosted a sweepstakes for readers to write in about a memorable family reunion of their own and how it changed their definition of family. Five winners received a free, signed copy of my novel via a random drawing, and I had the great pleasure of sharing in these special moments in readers’ lives. Below is a selection of those stories. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
P.S. Even though the contest has ended, I’d love to continue posting your stories. If you’d like to share a few lines—or paragraphs—about a memorable family reunion of your own, just send an email.
“My family story actually took place this past weekend. My first granddaughter, Megan Jacqueline, was baptized. Three of my four children were able to attend, two with their significant others. It was a wonderful experience, and reminded me that family is really the most important thing we all have. And looking at the beautiful face of my 7-month-old granddaughter made me realize that the chain of life continues. The week before, my son, his wife and Megan visited my 91-year-old mother ... Amazing to see my mother and granddaughter together, and realizing she is responsible for all of us.”
-Nancy H., Meridian, ID
“My own family never did much, reunion-wise, until about 20 years ago. One of my oldest cousins had decided to attend his high school reunion, and felt it would be a good time to also get some family together. I missed that first reunion—just a couple of dozen people.
But a different cousin’s wife was interested in geneology, so she began researching and our next family reunion (1998) had over 200 descendants of my great-grandparents in attendance, and I was one of them. To hear some of the stories that my oldest cousins could relate was really precious to me, and even more so to my youngest brother (14 years younger than I and only 6 when my grandparents died). My favorite of his comments: ‘I thought Dad’s family was from Mexico, but they were from San Antonio all the time!’ My response: ‘In 1830, San Antonio WAS in Mexico … it wasn’t part of the US until 1846.’
As my own father ages and dementia claims more and more of his memories, I treasure those family reunions and that cousin who began recording everything so that future generations would not forget.”
-F. Tessa B., Bayside, WI
“My brothers and sister and I all were reunited for a period covering one month: while we gave my mother 24/7 care around her death bed. In that time my mother was able to give us a beautiful final gift - that of very, very happy memories and tales during that period where she lay bed bound and fading away - but enriching our lives with love and laughter and life. It was just such a fabulous legacy to leave each of us - those final days together.”
-Nancy R., Norfolk, VA
“Well, I can remember how I was younger and we'd go to family reunions almost every year... walking into these big buildings with big rooms and thinking ‘Is our family really this big?’ but when I saw the whole family gathered together and how cramped they were, I realized that my family IS that big. I was fairly shy then and didn't talk to many people because I didn't know them. That's the thing about having a big family: I may not know them all, but they are still my family, I love them, and they love me.
We stopped having the family reunions because people got so busy trying to make a living and dabbling in their own affairs. I was really sad because I thought a big family like us wasn't a family if we didn't have reunions.
I realized that that isn't true, though. No matter what, my family will band together and help each other when the need arises, no matter what is going on.
One of my great uncles died not that long ago and so we all went to his funeral. I didn't know him too well so I wasn't as sad as some people. Lots of people showed up. My grandma and her sister are constantly fighting, but, at the funeral, they laid down their weapons and mourned the loss of their big brother.
And then there was the wedding. My mom's cousin was getting married and, though most of us did not agree with the marriage, we still went to support her. So many people came to this, too! People may not have agreed, but they still went and congratulated them afterward.
From these few encounters, I realized that, even though we don't get together a lot, we are still a family. And we are a family because we all love each other (no matter what they claim) and they will help each other out when the need arises. From the death to the wedding, to before and after, and in between, we were and are a family and always will be. Just because we don't gather together doesn't mean that we are estranged.”
-Kyla, age 14, West Valley City, Utah
“I don’t have my parents to ask, What about this person or that person? So, when we have a family union, it’s hard to know who to even call, email, etc. When we did have one, I was thrilled to meet a cousin who was elderly, and listen to his stories of the war, and how when he went to college, there were only seven in his engineering class at the U of M! I was amazed at how sharp he still is and
that he only lived 10 miles away from us now.
Another cousin, lives on the ocean in Florida! I was amazed how alike some of the mannerisms were, that I thought were unique to my Dad.
I think with all our technology, it has helped bring more families together in this day and year.”
-Mari R., Maple Grove, MN
“Our family reunion was held in China, a place I never thought I would ever see. Our youngest son had lived and worked in China since 1994, and my husband refused to fly. So, I convinced myself that I would never get to China, but would have to settle for our son's yearly visits home. Of course that meant I was missing out on a huge part of his life. He builds golf courses for a living and also was in partnership with several others in a expatriate hangout in Shenzhen called Cheers Ganbei. I was just looking at pictures and never able to see the real thing, until in June 2009, I said how I would love to fly back with him, and he said great idea, and then our younger daughter said she would go too, and it just snowballed from there.
We spent a wonderful three weeks in China, seeing so many parts: Beijing, the Great Wall, Xian and the terra cotta army. At Cheers Ganbei, which was like a home away from home, we celebrated July 4th with hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, etc. A friend of our son introduced my daughter and myself to foot massage and leg massage after we got off the long plane ride and I have to say it was the perfect antidote to travel-weary feet and legs.
What a lovely reunion and one I will always treasure, even more because I never thought it would be possible.”
-Suzanne K., Hornell, NY
“I am having a slow but sure reunion with my L. cousins. First I re-met Susie from
Arizona through email. Then I met Carla who lives near me through email then in person. Yesterday we went on an ancestor cemetery tour! Susie got me in touch with some of her brothers through email and Sarah from Massachusetts just wrote
to me. We're planning a reunion in October. We all feel included and cared about.”
-Laurie L., North Stonington, CT
“Memorable family reunions are few for me as I come from a small and not very close-knit family. However, one exception was in the fall of 1999 when my now late father, stepmother, aunt, a cousin and her husband and daughter all gathered together in rural West Virginia for a reunion of relatives on my unknown great-grandmother's side of the family.
We had an incredible time visiting with people most of us had never met and were astounded when my 80-year-old father recognized a childhood playmate and cousin he had not seen in 72 years! We compared ears and elbows and gloried in late summer watermelon, coconut cake and typical southern potluck cuisine. It was bittersweet in that my father's long dormant cancer was about to erupt and metastasize into a final 4.5 month decline. It also marked the last time my beloved aunt saw her younger brother.
Despite invitations, we've never returned to that magic place and sadly most of the older generation are dead. We traipsed uphill through cow pastures to reach well tended graveyards of unknown ancestors and gloried momentarily in our shared lineage.”
-Linda H., Alexandria, VA
“My most memorable family reunion was my grandparents’ 50th anniversary. I live in Wyoming and my family lives in Oklahoma. It is over 1000 miles from my home to my families. Neither my husband or I had any vacation left at work so we decided to drive straight through. We didn't tell anyone that we were coming. We were exhausted by the time we reached my grandparents’ house, but the second we walked through the door and saw the looks on everyone's faces, it was worth it. My grandparents cried and I cried too. It was worth the exhaustion we felt as we drove back to Wyoming.”
-Alana W., Wyoming
“The family reunion that really changed my idea of family was about 6 years ago. I received an email from a woman in England who had seen one of my genealogy posts on the Internet. As we shared our information, it became clear that we were related! We had mutual ancestors in Rogliano, Cosenza, Italy. Her husband had been an Italian prisoner-of-war who was sent to Wales. She met him there as he was working on her uncle's farm. After the war, he had a chance to stay there. They married and raised their family in Manchester.
In one of my messages, I said that we lived in Rifle, CO, near Aspen. She wrote back that her son had been to Rifle when he came to the US on a vacation. Then she said that he was coming again in a couple of months and that he wanted to meet our family. I was so thrilled. I quickly invited all the members of our family that I could reach. We had a great reunion with our newfound cousins from the other side of the pond.”
-Marilyn C., Rifle, CO