My three nieces, nephews, and a close cousin and I shared the rental expenses of a grey shingled white trimmed, 2-story quintessential Cape Cod house… neutral territory (none of us live on the Cape). We were to celebrate my sister and brother-in-law’s 50th wedding anniversary and my sister’s 70th birthday… two milestones that the family wanted to honor and commemorate as our surprise gift to them for all their years of love and devotion to us all.
Six months of preparations, juggling logistics, and no verbal slips, finally came to fruition when I arrived on Cape Cod to rendezvous with my immediate family spanning four generations: a fourteen month old, children aged 6-15, adults from the late twenties to my 91 year old Aunt and caregiver who flew with her from Florida, and had become one of the family.
We scurried around the house, settled into our bedrooms, got dinner ready, and grouped ourselves inside the front door to wait for the unsuspecting couple to arrive.
We had arranged for them to fly to Cape Cod to spend the weekend with their closest friends, who were in on the surprise. They thought they were going to friends for dinner, but when they knocked at our door my Aunt opened the door to greet them.
My brother-in-law stopped in his stride, shrugged his shoulders, and with outstretched arms turned to my sister, “That looks like your Aunt.”
Just as stupefied, she said, “It IS my Aunt.”
When I poked my head into the doorway, my sister stared at me and shouted, “You’re supposed to be in Hawaii. ”
As we all popped out of our hiding places, screams, tears, laughter, and hugs spread throughout the entryway. Their mouths stretched beyond the limits of their smile muscles, and their eyes were continually moist for the rest of the evening.
The surprises continued the next day with a cook-out for cousins and friends, some we hadn’t seen in over forty years. More tears, laughter and hugs. Being together was reliving our childhood when every Friday night our families flocked to my grandma’s; 20-30 aunts, uncles, and cousins. I was the kid in those days. Now I’m the aunt, and great aunt!
Each morning sleepy-eyed people followed the smell of their wake-up coffee prepared by the first person in the kitchen. Someone would announce they’d cook dinner that night, our one big family meal of the day. Meals were prepared with love and served with pleasure. Everyone ate together and cleaned up afterwards, and even got the trash to the dump.
After dinner, instead of TV, computers, and cell phones, the adults and kids played board or card games together till after midnight. No one quit till there was a winner. Some of us gathered around our 91 year old Aunt Min to watch her play solitaire.
My 6 year old grandniece looked at me with her pixie eyes. “Did you see where Auntie put that card?’
“Yes. Auntie has her own way of winning.” We both giggled.
Our daytime playground was the grass lawn sloping into the inlet. Swings dangled over a sandy patch where kayaks awaited us. A dock extended out over the water as a platform for jumping off into the shallow bay. Cricket on the back lawn, badminton on the front. The front lawn was also perfect for my teaching Yoga to the family, which became our daily morning ritual after coffee. None of them had ever done Yoga. I was so surprised at their willingness to stretch into it. We didn’t go a day without Yoga. When the weather wasn’t suitable, we brought the class inside.
Some of us visited beaches, shopped in quaint seaside towns or kayaked the waterways that flowed into marshes or around peninsulas that jutted into the inlet waters. Others lounged at home reading, chatting, and napping.
I had quality time with each family member. One of my cousins by marriage, I’ve known for thirty-six years, but only see at family functions. Kayaking together for several hours, we talked about our lives. For the first time we got to know each other. A new girlfriend/sister relationship had been forged.
The week was as smooth as the inlet waters edging our property. We all marveled at how perfect it was for twenty-two of us spanning four generations living under one roof for the first time: not one glitch, not one quarrel, only love to and from each of us. Cherished memories etched in our hearts forever. On our last night, we felt like the Kennedy Clan at their compound posing for a family photo.
My oldest niece and I stayed up late putting the finishing touches on the photo album of the week’s activities. We presented it to my sister and brother-in-law on Saturday morning, at our last breakfast and as the last surprise. Receiving this treasure of our time together, they were as overwhelmed with emotions as they were at the sight of all of us on that first night.
A euphoric sense of family, joy, playfulness, and love lingers inside me filling the geographic distances.
I feel like the richest woman in the world.
Image Credit: Gylian Solay