Photo credit: Bill O

In late October we gathered in the beautiful Kentucky countryside at the cutest little farmhouse Vrbo for a Sibs Decade Birthday Gathering. Another of us was reaching a milestone Birthday and we had come from the four corners of the country to experience the Ark Encounter.

We began this tradition when our oldest sister, who we affectionately call Sister, turned fifty. We came up with the idea to surprise her by showing up at her home in Texas to celebrate over a long weekend. We were all working, so it took a good bit of coordinated effort. We covertly arranged with her husband to meet in San Antonio at a certain Italian restaurant. The four of us who had flown in from CA, NJ, GA, and MT connected at the airport and arrived in one car. We walked into the restaurant lobby and there was that moment of shock, the inability to reconcile the presence of these people in this place they don’t belong. We could see it on her face before the joy broke through. If you’re thinking, “Who would do that to someone, come to their house without warning?!” Not to worry. We were confident that Sister’s house would be company ready. Her stone house in the Texas Hill Country is always perfect. If it were my house, you’d be taking your chances.  

That weekend was the beginning of twenty years of the Sibs Decade Birthday Gatherings. With five of us, and ten years between the oldest and the youngest, you can see that just when we finished the fifties, it was time to begin the sixties, etc. Our hubbies found this a bit unsettling . . . our commitment to all these trips, though they were always invited to join us. We had no way of knowing back then that we would still be doing this twenty years later. We only knew that it had been years since we’d had time to just hang out together. Our fun, big family reunions found us cooking and baking and planning and entertaining, and making time to spend with our own kids and grandkids. So we agreed that this sib reunion would be schedule-and-cooking free, unless we felt like it.

That first Birthday we bakers bought a bakery cake, vanilla with buttercream icing, like the best wedding cake. We lingered long around the breakfast table with our coffee each morning, Grandma Edna’s cook stove from the cabin warming us. We enjoyed walks down along the river, trips around their little town, the bounty of her husband’s garden, and steaks from the grill. And we were surprised to see how easily we fell into the familiar roles—the “two big girls” and the “three little kids.” I’ve often joked that if Sister told me to do something today, I’d probably jump up and do it! She’s the oldest, our second mother. I’m the second. It’s fun to go down memory lane with others who want to make the trip. We talked about the early years, Daddy the junior high principal in a small Montana logging town up north near the border, Mom a bookkeeper downtown at Bolyard’s grocery and Dad’s unpaid secretary on the weekends while we played in the gym. We remembered the big move to southern CA when we were teenagers. Daddy’s excitement at the beautiful warm weather, the avocados and oranges hanging freely on trees. No snow! I remember hiding my tears that first Christmas as we sprayed snow on the big living room window. We acknowledged how blessed we were to have had these remarkable, ordinary, loving parents and to have grown up in the haven they’d created. We even discovered that we still liked each other! Old stories were told and embellished. Hearts opened up with new stories about growing families and heartaches back home. And we listened to each other.

Now here we were twenty-some years later. The Ark Encounter was incredibly beautiful. Our hostess had been one of the metal artists who worked on the exhibits, so we perused the details in the books she left for us in the farmhouse before making our trip to the ark. It was fun just being tourists together, standing in line to board the buses, reading the exhibit narratives, taking pictures, looking up with awe at the scale and workmanship of the structure. Refreshing ourselves at the coffee shop when we were weary. Too much to take it all in with just a few hours, but definitely worth the trip. The beautiful gray day added to the experience.

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It was Sister who suggested this location as our meeting spot since it was our brother’s Birthday. He has always been a good sport about shopping at William Sonoma or TJ Maxx in GA, NJ, ID, MT, or CA, or thrifting in all parts of the country, or driving out of the way for Fiestaware outlets, or marveling at the quality of the woven German tablecloths in Fredericksburg, TX. You get the idea. He’s had lots of experience and patience with the girl stuff. On his sixtieth we did look at tractors with him one afternoon in Kalispell, MT . . .

No matter where we gather or what we do, the best part about these sib reunions is the talking and reconnecting, the catching up. We gathered round a thick packet of Dad’s letters home from the war, the box of his newly-discovered Army Air Corp insignia and dog tags, and remembered Mom and the many dresses she sewed for us to sing in. And we had bakery cakes for the Birthday Buddies. To have people who really know you and love you unconditionally, with whom you never have to pretend . . . that is a gift. If you have sibs, make a plan to stay connected. You won’t regret it.

4 thoughts on “Before autumn passes…

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