It was all you could wish for on a summer's day: the sky shone clear and blue, the shade trees dappled the lawn, the lake sparkled as the breeze ruffled its surface.
At eleven o'clock the family began to gather by twos and threes and then by carloads with kids. The Howatt clan was having a first-of -its-kind picnic, a reunion brought about by the convergence of Ron and Gretchen Lundquist''s 40th anniversary and the pre-nuptial celebrations for Lindsay Chandler and Arthur Mandjek's wedding in one week. Ron and Gretchen had timed their own family's reunion to include the West Coast wedding, and July 18 was the only sliver of an opening to get together between their clan arriving and heading to the coast. The following weekend would be too late: Lindsay and Arthur would be honeymooning and Andrew and Renee would be heading to Winnipeg for her family's gathering. But it was one opportunity, and we grabbed it, Gretchen and I, as we talked on the phone before they came.
The 4 children of Frank and Margaret Howatt were all there: Gretchen, Holly, Steven, and Duncan. Gretchen had her whole clan together: Ron, Andrew and Renee with their 5: Bennah, Reayah, Zachariyah, Jaiden, and Joy Shalom; Elizabeth and Jeff Calhoun with Hannah and John Ryan; and Jonathan. Holly's group included Ron, Emily and John Lawler, Amanda, Brett and Nichole, Lindsay and Arthur Mandjek and his mother from Cameroon, Francoise Indouine. (Evan and Lisa were busy with their day campers on 2 floats in the Troutdale Parade that day.) Steven came with Courtney and Pam after Megan had arrived with the newest member of the family: Joshua David Kochendorfer, one month old. (Nathan was recouping from a week at JR HI Camp.) Alison came later in the afternoon when she got off work. Duncan and Kris and their girls Abbi and Cheyenne (just home from a week at camp that morning) were joined by their exchange student from Spain, Nieves.
Les and Nina's son Clarke didn't arrive until later in the week for the wedding, but Drenda came (Don being on a men's retreat), and Janis and Bill Mildenberg came with Marcus and Lilly. We noted how tall Marcus has grown, the summer freckles—he's an all-American Huck Finn.
Clarke and Janelle hoped to be in Portland the following week, but weren't in time for the picnic. Their Lisa and Michael sent regrets but they were spending a week in Hawaii with Matthew, Andrew, and Ryann.
A few at a time we gathered at a site staked out when the park first opened by Ron and Holly. Orange and yellow and green and hot pink and luau florals reserved our spot. We were situated near the lake but not dangerously so for toddlers, near the swings and playground and not far from the “splash park”. Trees surrounded our circle of 5 tables. We had a small shelter with barbecue and running water.
As folks arrived carrying coolers and camp chairs and hats we made a circle of lawn chairs and gave hugs all around. Introductions were made to Francoise and Arthur, and cousins Elizabeth, Andrew, and Jonathan were happily greeted with remembrances of past holidays as kids. The cousins' spouses met their “new” relatives in person, but many of the younger folk had already become “friends” on FaceBook. The circle grew bigger and bigger and cries of enthusiasm rang out as newcomers arrived. Andrew's kids and Elizabeth's kids were particularly happy to be together since Andrew and Renee had moved away from the East Coast several months earlier, where the two families had spent much time together.
Francoise sat and watched the family, and one by one people came and sat with her and talked. She and Duncan visited, then she and Dad—noting their “Frank” and “Francoise”similarity, then she and Les. At the end of the day Francoise told Holly family stories and legends that had been told to her by the brothers, Frank and Les. Astonishing!
The grills got heated up and we had hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, bison, and turkeyburgers. Folks had brought potato salad, pasta salad, veggies, chips, dips, red velvet cake, Key Lime pie, blueberry tarts, and brownies. It was picnic heaven, just like the old Sunday School picnics where everyone shared their offerings on a common food table. Soda pop was a special treat for the youngsters who are on a restricted diet by their careful parents. Little fingers were noticed creeping frequently into the chips bag.
After appetites were satisfied, the youngest set went back and forth to the splash park with a parent or auntie while others dozed with the napping toddlers stretched out on blankets. Chatting went on and chairs were pulled into the shade as the sun swung out from behind the trees. Amanda, Brett, Nichole, Courtney, Emily , Lindsay and Arthur played Frisbee and croquet as the older folks regrouped periodically in conversations. The afternoon wore on but time stood still in its perfect summer day way. Little by little, couples packed up the baskets and said their goodbyes with promises to “see you at the wedding”. But some lingered into the evening having good talks and just enjoying the peace and pleasure of the moment. As the park was closing, we gathered up the chairs and blankets and packed the remains of the food, saying our thank yous and good-byes with hugs and kisses all around. A very satisfying family day!