This past weekend Maggie and I, along with 32 of our beloved family members, traveled up to Grand Beach, Michigan to partake in a weekend-long reunion of sorts, affectionately known as The Allen Open. Exactly how many years we have been doing this is unknown. If someone sat down and really thought about it, I’m sure they could figure it out, but I don’t think anyone in our family really cares about the anniversary of the thing, so long as when the event is actually occurring, there is enough food to make the concept of hunger feel like a fuzzy gray memory in the back of your mind. We stay in a house owned by my aunt and uncle, who graciously open their doors to us year after year, despite increasing concerns for what this must do to their mental health. We can be a very needy bunch.
So this past Friday after work, I made my way into the loop, arriving at Chicago’s Union Station where I was to meet my mom and sister before boarding the 6:00 Amtrak to New Buffalo. We had agreed to meet at 5:40 on the giant square planter/fountain that I imagine accompanies all luxury Amtrak ticketing centers, so I quickly shuffled past the miserable folks waiting to hop on a train back home to the Southwestern suburbs, past the miserable folks waiting in line to buy cans of Pringles before their boarding call, until I found my mom, waiting patiently for her two less-punctual daughters. As I sat down next to her, she remarked on her thirst and offered to buy a bottle of water for me as she went to get one for herself. When Maggie arrived around the time we needed to join the growing line of Michigan travelers, she immediately noticed the matching bottles in our hands and before she could exhale, stubbornly protested, “Wait…I want one.” We all had a gentle laugh; a 27 year old functioning adult acting like a little baby! But the laughter quickly turned sour as my mom and I both knew that she was serious. Maggie grabbed her own bottle of water and got in line behind the Pringle-eaters. As she approached the cashier, she looked over at my mom (who was still standing next to the planter/fountain) and gave a look that resembled a child learning to ride a bike and hears the dreaded words “Ok, I’m going to let go now.” My mom, a quick responder to her children’s unwarranted panic, scurried over with her wallet and paid the man, relieving my sister of a $2.09 expense.
It is important to note, that had the situation been reversed, and I had arrived late and was not gifted with a free bottle of water before an hour and a half long Amtrak ride, I would have done that exact same thing. I might have even thrown in a Twix bar as punishment for forgetting about me. I don’t know what age you stop expecting your mom to buy you lunch, dinner, snacks, movie tickets, etc., but for someone turning 26 in three weeks, it’s looking like never. I imagine myself visiting them in the old folks home, ordering a pizza, and when it arrives, opening the door and calling out to my mom, “You got this, right?!” This is not to say I’m spoiled or feel any great sense of entitlement around my parents. I mean, my sister and I used to have to split a package of fruit snacks for God’s sake. But there is a part of me that resists growing up from the parent-child relationship, as I have known it. I was lucky to be raised by such generous, well-rounded, and selfless parents, but this appreciation and subsequent dependency on my parents has lead to adult-me calling my mom crying every time I have to update my resume, or am diagnosed with a UTI.
I’ve gotten off-track here. The point of this post is to regale you with stories from The Allen Open, and I’ve veered onto the ugly track of personal medical information. So ANYWAY, my dad picked the three of us up from the train station and we made a quick pit stop at the local grocery store so Maggie and I could gather all the supplies we would need for the chips and dips we were asked to provide. (I will avoid going on a parallel tangent about how our parents let us go into the grocery store by ourselves without offering up any petty cash. Those tortilla chips were $5 a bag! I need that money to LIVE!) We finally arrived at our aunt and uncle’s house where most everyone else had already arrived and were preparing to grab a plate for the first meal of the weekend. In years past, I have been known to get a little over eager on this first night and drink so much that I am out of commission for the rest of the weekend. So this year I was making a very conscious effort to eat a full-balanced meal, and keep track of how many glasses of chardonnay (and how close to the rim they were being poured) I was consuming. Needless to say, I was quite proud of myself when I woke up Saturday morning next to my sister, headache-free and only slightly nauseated by the stifling hot air lingering in the room. “I turned off the ceiling fan,” my sister informed me. Oh, did you? Such a good idea when it’s 90 degrees at 9:00 in the morning and the only thing left in my body to keep me hydrated is something manufactured by the late Robert Mondavi.
It wasn’t long before we were eating again. Nothing like a stomach full of bagels, sausage, hash browns, coffee cake, and a strawberry or two, to get you scampering up to your bedroom to put on your swimsuit. And not long after that—seriously it was probably two hours later—we headed over to where my parents were staying, a house owned by good friends of theirs in the same town, for lunch. They’ve been doing this for a few years now. Part of the reason is that the main house is short on bedrooms, and having a second home to organize a meal for 30+ people takes a load off of my aunt and uncle. Another reason is that over there it’s quiet and I’m sure to my parents they can almost make believe they’re not even on a family vacation.
Once everyone finished, they headed back to my aunt and uncle’s house to rest up for dinner. Seriously, it’s like the only way to tell time up there is by what meal we’re in between. My sister and I hung back and prepared our dips in a kitchen where we would not be in anyone’s way, and, more to the point, no one would be in ours. Maggie decided to make guacamole, which was almost a complete disaster as the only avocados available at the grocery store the night before were hard as rock, but we bought them anyway hoping for the best. The next day when little progress had been made, softness-wise, we reached out to my aunt had two perfectly ripe avocados at her house that she was willing to donate to the cause. Crisis averted.
I made a spinach and artichoke dip that my father later told me looked disgusting (apparently he has an aversion to artichokes) but was a monster hit with everyone else. So, win-win. Win because everyone loved it, and win because who cares what he thinks! Later that night, when we arrived with dips and chips in hand, we made our way out to the cabana, which is considered the general grazing area for those interested in squeezing one last meal in before dinner. I ended up never leaving the cabana, so my dinner consisted solely of tortilla chips, spinach dip, guacamole, wine, and a few hours later, an Oreo brownie. If you’d like to know how I felt when I woke up Sunday morning, I ask that you use your imagination as an attempt to come up with the best descriptors for that experience may cause me to lose my lunch right here on this computer. At least Maggie left the ceiling fan on this time. That next day I was having the kind of morning where I blindly rummage around all surrounding surfaces, looking for my glasses, only to give up in a huff and bitterly resort to putting my contacts in. And yes, that is to say it happens frequently. On this particular occasion, once the contacts were in and I could see again, I found my glasses on the nightstand that was directly to the left of the bed where I slept. You know, where one puts things like that.
We left Sunday afternoon, and I am happy to report that for someone with skin the color of a bar of soap, I stayed almost completely sunburn-free the entire weekend. There was a small patch of red on my right kneecap that I had neglected the first day because I had cut myself shaving and had to place a band-aid over that spot. Yes, it was bleeding that much that it required a band-aid. I’m like, twelve. Of course I took said band-aid off about five minutes after I finished putting on sunscreen, lounged in the sun all day, and now, thanks to great sunscreen coverage everywhere else, my kneecap looks like it has an STD. Still, a success.
As I said at the beginning, there’s no telling how long we’ve actually been doing this. But every year as Father’s Day weekend approaches, the anticipation of the reunion builds, and finally—instantly—you feel the excitement and joy in the air when you walk back into the house that Friday evening. It’s really quite something to have a family that big, and that invested in one another and the traditions we share. One day it will be my own children, staying out by the pool too late, drinking too much wine, and making themselves sick on too much dip. And as long as they’re being kind to their cousins (and good to their mother!), I’ll be proud as a peacock. Right, Janet?