This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the gift of family. My family is made up of 11 great-grandchildren, 22 grandchildren, eight siblings, and one set of grandparents that started it all.
In my large and diverse extended family, there is one thing capable of uniting us. Summers in Lake Geneva, Wis., bring my family together. At the end of each July, my entire family gathers at my grandma Evelyn Barrett's lake house for our family reunion. I'm not sure how my 92-year-old grandma puts up with it, but she annually hosts dozens upon dozens of family members.
From New Jersey to Nebraska to Nashville, family flocks to the lake each year. The lake serves as a meeting place, but its beauty and entertainment are not the only reasons why so many make the annual pilgrimage. The lake guarantees a reconnection with distant relatives, "the chance to meet a new baby, find out about someone's new job or house," my aunt Barbara Plachinski explained. Many family members travel for hours to celebrate and enjoy our cherished tradition. My aunt Kathleen Cavanaugh understands the importance of our reunion at the lake.
"It has given us all an opportunity to know each other, and – as a result – be interested in each others' lives and experiences," she said.
Summers at the lake are my fondest and most recollected memories; each summer promises swimming, water skiing, dancing, Scrabble, cooking and doing the dishes. These activities are made memorable by the time spent with my cousins, aunts and uncles. Like other families, food is extremely important to us. Daily trips are made to the grocery store to prepare for every night’s dinner. Each dinner is hosted by a different group of family members. From taco night to the annual "Pork-tacular" meat extravaganza, no meal is a disappointment.
My aunt Mary Pat Teague told me last week: "My favorite tradition is when Grandma leads us all in grace before dinner and we pray for those that went before us. Although we don't tell her it enough, she is right when she says, 'It didn't all fall out of the sky.' "
In the midst of the fun, it can be easy to forget the reason for the lake house. I am thankful for my grandparents who provided my family with the values and resources that have allowed us to stay connected to each other.
In a family of 41 people, I can’t promise that everyone always gets along. With an abundance of personalities, interests and ideas, there are always going to be disagreements. Nevertheless, we are accepting of one another. New guests and visitors are treated like they are a part of the family; this means that they have to wash dishes along with everyone else. I feel blessed to have grown up in such a friendly, hospitable atmosphere.
At the end of the summer, we leave the lake with our stomachs full and our hearts fuller. No matter where we end up, we will always find a way to make it back home.
• Nellie Barrett is a senior at Geneva High School and an intern at the Kane County Chronicle. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.