Every year it was the same. They drove from their home in Ohio to attend the family reunion in Utah, stayed a few days, then drove back again.
By the time Bryan was 17, he thought he was bored with it all. He pleaded with his parents to let him stay home and work, but they said it just wouldn’t be the same without him. So he came to yet another family reunion.
The reunion was held at his grandparents’ farm in northern Utah. Their family was given use of a camp trailer that an uncle who lived in town had made available for the reunion.
The morning after they arrived Bryan got up early and watched families as they went about the business of making do. The farmyard looked like it had been invaded by a band of gypsies. There were trailers, tents, and camper-trailers everywhere. Inside his grandparents’ home, kids were sprawled asleep on the floor in every room.
There was a girl his age sitting under a tree reading a book. He recognized her from the reunion two years ago but couldn’t remember her name.
He walked up to her. “Hi. We must be cousins, right?”
She looked like she’d made up her mind to have a miserable time at the reunion. “Do we have to be?”
“Well, this is a family reunion, which means that you’re either a cousin or an aunt. But if you’re an aunt, why haven’t you been sending me Christmas presents every year?”
“Because I’m not Santa Claus.”
This was going to be a little tough.
“I see that you and I share the family nose,” he said. “How’s it been working for you?”
She was still trying to be grumpy, but Bryan caught a faint smile. “Not very well today,” she said. “Usually I can smell a rat.”
“Hey, I’m the future of America.”
“That’s it. I’m moving to Canada.”
He studied her face. “Where did you get your eyes? They’re supposed to be blue. Yours are brown. Are you an imposter?” He sat down next to her. “What grade are you in?”
“I’ll be a junior,” she said.
“I’ll be a senior, so I’m older and wiser.” He patted her on the head. Then, trying to sound like one of his uncles, he added jokingly, “You know, I remember you when you were just this high.”
She closed her book with a smile. “I’m not going to get much reading done with you around, am I?”
“Not much. But, hey, talking to me is a lot better than reading a book. My name’s Bryan. What’s yours? You weren’t at last year’s reunion. How are we related?”
“I had to work during last year’s reunion. My name is Kim. I’m your mother’s Aunt Ruth’s granddaughter if you want to locate me on your family group sheet.”
“Aunt Ruth—is she the one who makes fruitcakes for Christmas and sends ’em out to everyone in the family?”
“No. That’s Aunt Melba. What do you do with yours? We store ours in the freezer for a year and then throw it out.”
“We usually give ours to the home teachers.”
“And they keep coming?”
He paused. “Let me guess—you weren’t too thrilled about coming to the reunion.”
“Right. All I ever do at these things is stand around and watch my chubby uncles make fools of themselves playing softball. Two days of that is enough to drive anyone crazy.”
“This year you’re in luck. Come on.” He took her hand and pulled her to a standing position.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“On a family reunion search for adventure.”
“Why don’t we just go in Grandma and Grandpa’s house?” she replied. “It’s getting hot out here already, and there isn’t a lot of shade.”
Inside the house he pointed to the fruit room just off the kitchen. It smelled of mildew.
“They say there’s a teenage girl buried in there,” he spoke eerily. “She died when she was 16. Sometimes at night she walks the halls crying out for a driver’s license. It’s so sad.”
Several younger cousins, still lying on the living room floor trying to wake up for the day, looked around to see who was waking them.
Kim giggled. “Quit teasing,” she whispered. “Why did you drag me in here anyway?”
“I don’t know. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Besides, you dragged me in, didn’t you?”
“I suppose that’s a possibility.” He walked to the fruit shelves and looked around. “Want to try some peaches canned ten years ago? They’ve been known to cause insanity.”
They found a stack of old magazines, some going back 40 years. He set up a couple of rickety folding chairs and talked her into glancing through them with him.
A few minutes later they went back into the kitchen for some cookies and two glasses of milk.
“This will spoil your supper,” he said.
“If last night’s supper is anything like what it’ll be tonight, I hope it does.”
They began to show each other interesting things they were reading.
“Look at this girl,” he said, showing her a picture of a fashion model.
“Woman, you mean,” Kim corrected. “What about her?”
He checked the cover to find out when the magazine was printed. “Now she’s 46 years old. I wonder if she ever looks at this picture and gets depressed because she doesn’t look this way anymore. Or if she ever has any regrets.”
“What kind of regrets?”
“About how her life turned out?”
Kim stood up. “Let’s go outside, okay? This place is getting to me.”
They decided to go for a walk. There were cousins and aunts and uncles everywhere. Near the top of a hill they stopped to rest. He found himself staring at her face.
“Something wrong?” she asked.
“You know what? If I were a girl, I’d want to look just like you.”
She appreciated the compliment. “You would, huh?”
“You bet. And I probably would too.” He started speaking in a high-pitched nasal tone. ‘That’s because we’re like two peas in a pod.’ I heard Aunt Melba say that once. Well anyway, we are a lot alike, coming from the same ancestors and all. Same eyes, except yours are the wrong color. Same nose, same double-jointed wrists, same crazy sense of humor …”
“Same humility,” she teased.
“Well, yeah, that too.”
At lunch Aunt Melba announced that the family variety show would be held that night. She invited anyone who wanted to show off their talents to sign up. Usually the same people volunteered every year. Bryan asked Kim if she wanted to go in with him on a skit, but she said no.
After lunch Bryan and Kim played volleyball with a whole group of relatives, but she quit after a while because one of the uncles kept running in front of her to take any ball heading her direction.
They decided to take another walk. “Can I talk to you about something?” she finally said after a few minutes.
“There’s this guy I’ve been going with,” she began. “His name is Rob. He just graduated from high school.” She paused. “My parents don’t like him very much.”
“Well, he doesn’t go to church much. And he drinks once in a while, not much now though because I got him to cut down. We haven’t done anything bad. And I think I can get him to come back into the Church. But now he’s going into the army on Monday, so this family reunion couldn’t have come at a worse time. I tried to talk my parents out of making me come up here, but they said I had to.” She paused. “The thing is, my parents don’t know this, but Rob’s driving up here tonight.”
Bryan smiled. “Oh good. He’ll be just in time to see the variety show. It’s so seldom you get to hear Uncle Harold play Lady of Spain on an accordion. Just once a year since we were little kids, that’s all. It should be a real treat for Rob. I know it will be for me.”
“Rob doesn’t even like being around my family. He wants me to go away with him.”
“Are you going to do that?”
“What do you think I should do?”
“If you went away with Rob, how long would you be gone?”
“I might be gone a long time.”
Bryan swallowed. “You mean like all night?”
“You must really think you love him a lot.”
“What do you mean, ‘think?’ I know I love him.”
“Enough to go against what you’ve been taught all your life?”
She sighed. “I don’t know. I can’t decide.”
“When is Rob coming?”
“Around eight o’clock. He told me to meet him at the old schoolhouse. At the crossroads.”
“What about your parents? They’ll be wondering where you are after the variety show.”
“I’ll tell them I’ve decided to sleep in the TV room in the house. There’s so many cousins packed in there I don’t think my parents will notice I’m gone.” She paused. “Rob’s been really patient with me, but with him going away, well …” She stopped talking. “I really do love him, you know. I really do.”
They walked back. Aunt Melba saw them and came after them. “I’ve been looking for you two. I need someone to read the family history.”
“Why do we do that every year?” Bryan asked.
“It’s one of our family traditions. Kim, will you read it for us this year?”
“I’d rather not.” She glanced at Bryan to help her out.
“I’ll do it,” Bryan said.
“Oh, good,” Aunt Melba said enthusiastically. “This year try putting expression into it. Last year it was done in such a monotone it put everyone to sleep.” She handed him several pages then turned to Kim. “Kim, what do we have you doing for the variety show?”
“Nothing, but that’s okay. Excuse me now. I have to run an errand for my mom.” She left.
Aunt Melba made Bryan practice reading the family history for her once to make sure he’d do it right. As soon as she was finished with him, he went to the camping trailer Kim’s family was staying in. He knocked on the door. Kim was there. She came outside.
“I thought Aunt Melba was never going to let me go,” he said. “What are you doing?”
“Packing a few things, for tonight.”
“Kim, I’ve been thinking.”
“I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I’ve decided to go with Rob.”
He sighed. “Oh.”
“You won’t tell on me, will you?”
He touched her arm. “Don’t do it, Kim.”
“Excuse me. I’ve got to go back in and finish packing before my parents come out.”
He tried to think of what to say that would help her change her mind, but he couldn’t come up with anything. He looked at the family history he was carrying.
“If I wait until you come back to the house, will you at least listen to me practice reading the family history? Aunt Melba made me promise to practice it in front of someone.”
A few minutes later, they met again in their grandparents’ kitchen. She was carrying a small suitcase that she placed in the corner. She took a seat at the table.
Despite the noise from the TV room, he began.
“We are all privileged to belong to a wonderful family. Genealogical research has so far traced our ancestors back to the 16th century, and further research continues to push back the sands of time.
“As far as the branch of the family which belongs to the Church goes, that began a few years after the Church was organized, when a 16-year-old apprentice shoemaker in Scotland heard two Mormon missionaries. He knew from the very beginning that what he heard was the truth. He wrote to his parents and asked for permission to be baptized. They wrote back and said that if he joined the Church, he would no longer be considered a member of the family. The man he worked for told him that if he joined the Church, he could no longer work for him.
“What a difficult choice for a 16-year-old boy to make. He must have agonized over the decision. To lose everything considered of value in life—his family and a chance to earn an income.
“If he had chosen to reject the gospel, this family would not be meeting here this year, all of us members of the Church, all of us committed to upholding the standards of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Every person at some time in his or her life must make the same kind of decision. Each of us must decide, once and for all; we must say to ourselves, ‘This is who I am, and these are the standards I live by.’ Until we do that, we are continually tossed to and fro, not knowing what to do when we face difficult decisions.
“Archibald McKinnon made the decision to join the Church. He came to America and crossed the plains with a handcart company. In time he married a beautiful young woman in the Manti Temple, and from their union, all of us have descended.
“And now for the news of the family during the past year. We are proud to have six of our family serving in the mission field. Last year Matthew and Cathy returned home from their missions. We have three young men who will be leaving before we meet next year.
Bryan continued. “‘We are proud so many of our family choose to live worthily of temple blessings. Last year we had 12 temple marriages, and 16 others who went through the temple for their own endowments. Genealogical research continues to be well supported through our family trust which so many of you help support each month. We had four of our young men earn their Eagle Scout Awards this year, bringing the total to 79 over the years.
“In conclusion we have a heritage and a tradition in our family. This is our family. It goes on forever, both into the future and back into the past, and all of us are grateful for the decision of a 16-year-old boy who had a difficult choice to make. And we’re grateful he made it in such a way that it blessed the lives of all of us here today.”
Bryan looked up. Kim was crying softly. She looked awful. “I don’t appreciate you preaching to me. You’ve never been in love like I am, so you don’t know what it’s like.”
“Maybe not, but I know when I do something wrong I always end up feeling bad about it.”
“Just go away, will you? I don’t need you telling me how to run my life.” She got up and walked out the door. He tried to follow her but she waved him away.
He returned to the volleyball game, trying to figure out when and how to talk to her parents. He quit playing and went looking for them, but in the few minutes before the show, he couldn’t find them anywhere. Then just before the variety show began, Kim came up to him and asked him if he’d walk with her to the crossroads.
“Why?” he asked.
“I need to talk to you.”
They walked along a well-worn path. “Our parents used to walk this way to school every day,” she said.
“Yeah, right. And from the way my dad tells it, he had to walk through three feet of snow, uphill both directions.”
Her voice became serious.
“I’m going to try to talk Rob into staying at the family reunion tonight.”
“Oh. That’s good, Kim.”
They climbed to the top of a hill, to where they could see the old schoolhouse at the crossroads. Rob’s car was already there.
“Maybe you’d better stay here,” she said.
Bryan sat down and watched her walk the rest of the way to the school. It suddenly dawned on him that she wasn’t carrying her suitcase.
“I’m glad you came,” Rob said when Kim arrived.
“I’m not going away with you tonight.”
“It’s not right.”
“Kim, we’ve been through all this before. You love me, don’t you?”
“Then what’s the problem?”
She paused before saying anything. “My great-great-grandfather joined the Church when he was just 16. Because of that his family disowned him and he lost his job as a shoemaker. He came across the ocean in a boat without any relatives to help him, and crossed the plains in a handcart.”
“I don’t care about any of that.”
“I know you don’t, but for the first time in my life I think I do.”
“Kim, if you don’t come with me tonight, it’s all over between us.”
She closed her eyes. “That’s not fair, Rob. We can be together tonight, but not in the way you mean it. Come with me to my family reunion. There’s going to be a talent show and refreshments.”
“Kim, get serious. This is my last night. I don’t want to be stuck with a bunch of your relatives. I want to be with you.”
“After the talent show, we can take a walk together.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Rob, I can’t go against what I’ve been taught all my life.”
“Because I’ve got to keep the temple in sight. I know you think it’s not important, but I want to be married there. Please come with me to the reunion.”
“You’re hopeless,” he said. He got in his car, slammed the door and drove away.
Kim began sobbing. Bryan hurried down the hill.
“That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Kim said between sobs.
“I know. Are you okay?” He put his arm around her shoulders, to let her know she’d be all right.
“I’ll survive,” she said. “Besides, you’d have told my parents anyway.”
As they made their way along the path their parents had walked as children, they could hear the strains of Lady of Spain being played on the accordion. For the first time either of them could remember, it sounded good.
And they had to hurry back. It was Bryan’s turn to read the family history to everyone.