On August 13, at exactly 2:05 pm our flight lands at the airport in Gander NL. Both my wife and I are extremely excited. With the seat belt sign now turned off we retrieve our overhead luggage, slowly exit the front of the aircraft and as our feet hit the tarmac I was, as suggested in my last article, overcome with emotion. The weather is extremely warm, the sky, a brilliant blue, the air is fresh and salty and the strong NL accent sounded wonderful. I am home!
Registration for the family reunion begins at 3:00 pm on Friday August 16 at Camp Starrigan. Two of our children, their spouses and six of our grandchildren arrive at camp before us. My wife and I are bringing with us 123 personal gifts—one per family member.
My wife spent the winter making ladies scarves and knitting wool socks, putting together small packages for our younger nieces and nephews while I tied 900 trout flies to be distributed to any and all who had any interest in fly fishing—this was to be a complete surprise to the family and believe you me it was exciting.
In our vehicle the conversation became intense, loud (just the two of us), excited and emotional as we anticipated our big arrival. Who will we see first? How many will have already registered? Will my siblings and their spouses have changed very much since our last family reunion five years ago? Will our new nieces and nephews be afraid of us?
Driving through the gate I see lots of vehicles and people and movement and activities. Horns are honking, people are waving and as we pull up to the registration cabin it happens—hugs and kisses, high fives and tears and shouts of, “You guys look great!” and “Welcome home!” and “I love you!” and “Oh my George, you’re looking younger, but that goatee has to go!” Wow! This is family and I am so blessed to be home.
The next couple of days are hectic. Olympic style events, presentation of gold medals, a ‘to die for’ talent show, cousins getting to know cousins, siblings updating each other on the events of the past five years in our personal lives, a giant church service, barbecue back at the old homestead, wiener roast on an open fire on the beach and a two kilometre haunted walk from one of the local cemeteries back to the old homestead, late at night and very dark.
Some of the younger nieces and nephews are already in bed but about 60 of us join in the very slow-paced walk and at certain places we would stop and share ghost stories that were common to us when we were still children. Along the walk a sibling, dressed in the most grotesque fashion, would unexpectedly jump out of the trees or from behind some embankment, resulting in hysterical screams, rattled nerves and soiled underwear.
When the walk is complete we all know that tomorrow will be very difficult. Many family members will be leaving to go back to homes located right across Canada. There are lots of tears but much laughter as well. We are already looking forward to our next family reunion in 2018. My wife and I are blessed, as we have another ten days on the island.
At this point I needed some personal time alone to reflect upon a great family heritage. Why am I so blessed with an immediate family of 123? This is a family where members would bleed or die for each other, without question.
My reflection takes me back to two of our local cemeteries. The first is a twenty minute walk from where I am staying. I approach the cemetery in a spirit of humility and the moment I step inside the gate it feels as though I am standing on holy ground. I prayerfully and thoughtfully approach every headstone and read every inscription.
This brings me, finally, to stand in front of the headstones where my grandparents are laid to rest. My grandparents were small in stature but rose up as giants in the area of influence, integrity, morals, hard work, respect and love for family. I stood in silence with my head bowed and my eyes closed. As if rising from the grave itself, my spirit internalized the words, “Be proud of your inheritance!” When I leave the grave side of my grandparents I had a leap in my step, confidence in my spirit and such an overwhelming sense of blessedness that I simply pumped the air with my fist and shouted, “Yes!”
I knew that the visit with my grandparents would catapult me to the second cemetery about a thirty minute walk from where I was standing.
Passing through the gates of this cemetery, I know I am in for an emotional coaster ride. Again, I approached every headstone and read every inscription. My path leads to three very special headstones. Trying to keep my emotions in check, I read the inscription on the smallest headstone: In memory of Dennis Wilfred Rowe. Died November 4, 1960, age four months. Suffer little children to come unto Me. Erected by parents Alfred and Margaret, eight brothers and six sisters. He lived just for a short time but left such indelible memories with his parents and siblings. I thanked God for the four months He gave us with Dennis.
I take two steps to my right and pause in front of the tombstone that bears information about Alfred and Margaret Rowe. Our parents. My parents. I stare for a while and then fall to my knees and weep softly as hundreds of sweet memories rise up and inundated my spirit to the point of being overwhelmed.
While I am kneeling I think of the Bible verse, “Each of you must show respect for your mother and father.” (Leviticus 19:3) I’m not sure how long I remain kneeling, but when I dry my tears and become completely cognizant of my surroundings again, I simply say, “Dad….Mom, thank you for the tremendous heritage you passed on to such a wonderful and extended family. I love you and I cherish every memory.”
As I close the gate to the cemetery I allow my mind to remain open to what I had just experienced and what my spirit had felt. There is another burst of tears but looking back over the closed gate I say, “Dennis…. Dad…. Mom…. remember the sun is always shining.”