It’s time for the annual Ripley Reunion, held this year in the suburbs of beautiful Joy, Illinois. My cousin and his wife are graciously hosting the event and we’re all looking forward to seeing everyone and catching up on the past year’s events. It used to be, starting back in the late 1970’s until recently, that the reunion would be held at my aunt and uncle’s cabin in New Boston, Illinois, an old sleepy river town that had seen better days several decades earlier. Their cabin is on Boston Bay, which is fed by the Mississippi River. I’m not certain when their cabin became the un-official meeting place of the Ripley Reunion, but it served us well in that time.
As a kid growing up on a farm in the 1970’s, I didn’t get to go swimming very often. Maybe twice a year, once in a public pool in Davenport when I visited some city friends (you know the type…who wear clothes all of the time) and the other time would be at the reunion, in Boston Bay. In the public pool you could open your eyes under water and watch kids swim (we got our kicks in weird ways in the ‘70’s) but when you swam in Boston Bay there’s no way in hell you’d do that. Boston Bay is fed by the muddy Mississippi. There’s lots of top soil and other “organic” stuff in that water from upriver (use your imagination…it’s the midwest) but you don’t think of that kind of stuff when you’re eleven years old, throwing mud at your cousins, being dunked by your older and larger brothers, getting burnt to a crisp under the early July sun (sunblock not having been invented yet) and getting towed on a tube behind a boat by your uncle. It was probably the highlight of my summer.
Another great thing about the reunion was that everyone (or it seemed so) was there. Folks drove or flew in from all parts of the country because it was the reunion. Even old relatives that I didn’t know were there, and it was a sense of family…family with a lot of love…and a ton of food. Oh my gosh…my grandparents would’ve spent the previous month in Minnesota fishing, and the ice chests that they filled and brought home were enough to feed us all. Fried walleye and perch, combined with the excellent food that everyone brought, was topped off with birthday cake (Grandma Ripley was born on July 4th) and homemade ice cream. We had enough food for DAYS, but only stayed together for a few hours….that’s probably another thing that makes it so special. It only lasts for a day.
Today’s reunions are different; still wonderful times, still a ton of delicious food, still a lot of love, laughing and talking, though the people have gotten older, folks are more spread out geographically and time commitments to other family matters or careers make reunions (at times) more difficult to attend. My dad is in a nursing home now and his absence will be felt. Grandpa and Grandma have been gone for years. It’s just the way things are, and I’m not mad, sad, or otherwise about it…(maybe a little melancholy) it’s just a remembrance of the way things used to be and the way things are today.
When the reunion started to wrap up for the day, when I was a kid, we would’ve already fired off some illegal fireworks, ate some more fried fish, and lost a couplea pints of AB positive to the mosquitoes in the darkness of the evening. We had an hours drive to get home and more than once I remember sitting in the back of our ’72 Ford, feeling the heat of that days sunburn on my neck and shoulders and starting to fall asleep, exhausted from swimming and thrashing around in the water.
I’ve got the sunburn if anyone could come up with some bottle rockets….