Tomorrow begins my family’s 20th annual Donner Lake vacation. What started as a gathering of 11 has grown with our families and this year we will have approximately 19 people on any given night, but that number will fluctuate as friends and family will stop by for dinner or to stay the night.
As each car pulls up to the cabin, it is swarmed with family running out to hug and help carry in the luggage. Beyond the first day, we have a rule that no one has to do anything they don’t want to and when anyone asks what time it is, the answer is always, “It’s vacation time.” During the day, my family will divide up into several small groups and people will do what they enjoy. Reading on the patio, trips to the beach, hikes in the woods and trips to downtown Truckee are common. My dad goes on long hikes almost daily. Christopher and I share in most of these activities but the long running joke is that Grandma is always in the kitchen.
We spent years trying to get Grandma out of the kitchen, where she helps which ever group is responsible for that night’s dinner or clean up. Finally a few years ago, she said “If the rule is that everyone gets to do what they want to do,then you need to leave me alone and let me do what I want and I am happy in the kitchen.”
Food is a big part of our time at Donner. The different families take turns making dinners throughout the week and there are certain foods that make appearances every year. My grandpa’s favorite, and my least favorite, is the night he makes turkey; the liver is cut into pieces, wrapped in bacon, grilled and served with an olive and a water chestnut as an appetizer to those brave enough to eat it.
Despite the fact that we are all over the place during the day, in the evening we sit down as one enormous family and eat together.
This makes me think about how fortunate I was growing up. For most of my life my family has always had dinner together. Usually my mom cooked and with few exceptions ( a horrible creation called Tamale Pie being one) we liked everything she made. On rare occasions we would get the treat of fast food or as my dad liked to call it when it was his turn to make dinner, “Chef’s surprise.” Conversations around the table would range from what everyone had done that day to problems we might be having. It was not uncommon for one of my sisters or I to have a friend over for dinner. My friend Nicole was a frequent enough guest star at our table to prompt my older sister to ask, “Nicole, don’t you ever go home.”
As we got older and got wrapped up in high school, jobs, friends, and other school activities, dinners together became less common. At that point, while I loved my family, it seemed like an inconvenience to have to be home for dinner. I wanted to be out with my friends. Looking back I feel that the closeness of my family and our communion together helped to shape me into who I am.
I am looking forward to the next week filled with laughter and family dinners. Of course, with the abundance of people comes an overabundance of food. Christopher and I will again face the temptation of too many sweets ( my sister will bring cakes) and general overeating.
If you have the time, eat a meal with your family this week.