Every summer my family makes the 550-mile journey to my family’s farm in central Illinois, where century-old barns bulge with ravenous pigs and the farmhouse fills up with two dozen more mouths to feed.
It’s no wonder we meet up on Grandpa and Grandma’s farm, the only place imaginable to feed all these growing grandkids. Here, the harvest is plenty — Grandma’s zuchinni bread and pork noodle casserole, Grandpa’s daily pick of green beans, and Aunt Molly’s hidden vegetable Yum Yum as I call it. Because whatever we ate could compete with Grandma’s Yummy bars!
But as much time as we spend serving up seconds, somehow these little creatures with monster appetites feed us, the adults, more. Where else can you find a friendly cricket-catching competition, a sidewalk turned into a two-wheeler highway and unscripted plays with a cast of cousins? These curious cousins — as lively as crickets caught in a critter jar — feed our lust for life, for love, for family.
Like any family gathering, we all come for the guaranteed good times. For our mostly elementary-to-toddler-aged extended family, that means feeding the pigs, swimming at the lake, and playing make-believe in the basement. And like any family, there are a few mud-slinging squabbles — and I’m not talking about the pigs.
When you cram more than a dozen cousins in a four-bedroom farmhouse with a few harried Aunts and a loving Grandma — whose cell phone doesn’t ring loud enough for her to schedule her eye surgery to correct her partial blindness — there’s bound to be some chaos.
Peanut butter found where peanut butter shouldn’t be. Kids lost only to be found digging a hole to cook, playing “poorhouse” under the trampoline. Cousins caught stealing — and snacking on — Grandpa’s green beans of all things! Houseflies getting buzzed in my wine — instead of me.
And yet we insist. We insist on getting together the same time, the same place. We insist every summer for all the cousins to come together — chaos included.
Back in my new home in Atlanta, Georgia, sorting through the memories made, I finally took the time to slow down and figure out why. Why do we put up with the chaos, the mess a large family in close quarters inherently makes? And why I will go back next summer ready to do it all over again.
I couldn’t put my finger on it, until I cried writing it.
Because I want my three-year-old daughter, Valentina, to hear Grandma Val sing, her voice reaching the heavens even when it’s raining, and to watch Grandpa Jim work — even harder when the rainwaters bring floods. (In this summer’s instance, he’ll come with boots ready to rescue your kids if the rains flood your basement!)
Because I want my oldest son, Kirkham, to know he has a great uncle who shares the Kirkham family name for a reason. I want him to know my family deeply, and all its history, so he can one day tell his grandkids all about them when I’m long gone.
Because I want my second son, Boone, to know he has Godparents who made me laugh and feel loved as a child, who have so much more love to give. And he has so much love to give them.
Because I want my youngest son, Tucker, to know if he so happens to outlive us all, he must carry on our love of family — and all the quirky cousin traditions like catching crickets (and other creatures) in critter jars.
Because I want them all to know how deeply I love my family — and always will. Because coming together as a family is worth every minute of chaos.
So until next summer’s adventures, I can sleep soundly having learned sometimes we all need to embrace the chaos, because a family that continues to come together is a family that loves… and lives, and lives.