Authentic Experience: Lorenz Family Reunion
Lorenz family reunion, for me, is quite unlike many multigenerational gatherings that Americans attend.
Everyone doesn't wear a matching t-shirt and stand for a group photo.
We don't have a well-organized schedule of activities that promote family bonding.
There is no large cornucopia of Pinterest-worthy long tables surrounded by conspicuously-smiling generations passing the non-GMO, no-lactose, no-wheat, no-nuts, prepackaged food options.
Hell, we don’t even have a made-in-China American flag waving.
Instead, my first-cousin Chris Lorenz, a good-natured fellow who is built like a refrigerator and has a laugh you can feel the vibrations from a block away, stakes sign with “Lorenz Parking”handwritten in black Sharpie at the street end of his newly-mowed five-acre sideyard in Howard City, Michigan. This is how you know to park on the grass not in the driveway.
Your face doesn't need to look familiar, and no one has to be clear on what your name is or if or how you are related to the Lorenz family. If you brought something remotely editable, preferably something you made yourself out of something you killed or harvested from the wilds or grew in your backyard in the last week, or picked up from Whispering Pines, a country grocery with an in-house bakery run by Amish ladies who only recently started taking credit and debit cards - you are in.
A well-appointed Port-A-Potty shaded by a large tree marks the end of the gathering area, which runs from an impressive-sized brook, past a swimming pool with a slide, to the other side yard, which is filled with tents and campers and a stack of firewood transported using the bucket of a loader with kids taking a joy ride every time the pile is replenished.
The door of the meticulously-organized garage is always open. Tables lined with every dish you could possibly pass, every salad known to man, and a stunning number of cakes made using instant pudding fill the space. A large refrigerator hiding as a tool chest struggles under the cases of beverages it tries to keep cool in the June heat.
Faces light up at the moment of recognition. The hugs are long, sometimes accompanied by a tear or two shed over years, sometimes decades, of lost time between loved ones.
The oldest generation is in their hundreds, they aren't able to make it this year, but expressions of satisfaction at the quality-of-life they maintain are offered all around. The next generation is in their 80-90s, and a bunch of tattle tales well represents this age group.
My father, Marty Lorenz, has three sisters and a brother present who take full advantage of the fact that he isn't there to regale their childhood memories that mostly revolve around him being “ornery.”
The time he dropped a snake down his sister’s shirt, hit another sister in the head with a hammer, shot a sister with a bb gun and then claimed the welt came from a bee sting, start rapid-fire testimony that even Judge Judy would struggle to keep up with. All sisters independently advise that you could throw my father in a bag with their Uncle Wendel, and it didn't matter who you pulled out, it was the same person.
Then my Aunt Marie, who has come from Florida after finally escaping the 1950s dynamic under her late husband’s thumb and left her kitchen for the first time in nearly 20 years, drops the bombshell that I have the same personality as my father at my age. Still processing that one.
Now, even though I don’t drink, I have come from Juneau, Alaska bearing gifts of local brew to the party since that was requested last time I came. The Alaskan Brewing Co. seasonal Island Ale was thought to be terrible lukewarm and tolerable ice cold, but no one’s favorite. The fresh-from-the-deep-freezer-cold citrus notes of Husky IPA and Pilsner gain quick praise.
My finally-single childhood-crush first cousin (alas) Mike and hunky second cousin (too young for me) Scott soon dive deep into discovering that 7% alcohol makes you considerably louder and more daring than the 2% light Bush they are accustomed to.
The next thing I know, Mike is my very skilled and incredibly gracious cornhole partner. The last and only time I have played this game was the last Lorenz reunion I attended, and they hooked me up with a gal who was a softball pitcher to make up for my demonstrated lack of natural abilities. Mike played just as well as she did, so my job was to not knock his bean bag off the slippery slide with a hole in the middle.
We were winning at one point, just a point away from heaven, when by some miracle of God, I got a beanbag on the board - half hanging in the hole, which then - miracle of miracles - I knocked in with my last throw, which was nothing but the net!
Two bags in the hole with one throw gave me just as much satisfaction as the hole-in-one I hit the first time I played golf with another set of cousins, the Holtin Hooligans.
After my loud hollering and dance-of-joy, I discovered that my great moment in athleticism set us back points, and the other team rallied and won. Classic.
Since we are Lorenz’s, there is no trophy or much memory of who won the cornhole tournament last year, and the attention was quickly diverted to the steaming piles of roasted flesh coming off the bbq grill.
I note a throw-away comment about rising federal interest rates as I fill my plate with chocolate cake and even sweeter seedless watermelon, and sit with the ladies under a tree. The men start getting loud, and my cousin runs over to remind her husband that talk of politics has been banned, and the only football team we cheer for is the Bears, mainly because a cousin is on their coaching staff and gives us copious amounts of swag.
I see this group of people for an average of 20 hours every five years. We always note recent losses, this time two of my brothers, and welcome new faces into the fold by marriage or birth. Our footprint swings from Florida to Alaska, South Dakota to Texas, yet despite the differences in economic prosperity, religion, and politic and civic sensibilities, we can make it through a weekend celebration of our shared heritage will no spilled blood or hard feelings.
This is the America I know and love. I am grateful for the opportunity she has afforded the descendants of several generations of Northern European war refugee farmers, my Lorenz family. Through the centuries, they escaped the French revolution at Alsace-Lorriane to settle the German colonies outside Odesa, Ukraine, to then be displaced by the Russian Revolution.
An American Indian boy demonstrated his affection for my Grandmother, Katie Ehli, with the gift of a painted pony when they farmed the Dakota territory before migrating down to the gently rolling hills and rich soil of Michigan.
Perhaps our Lorenz family gathering is a universal American experience after all, and we are just pioneering what a reunion will look like a few decades from now. All sustenance, no flash.