Every year since 1995 the All-Lawson-Family Vacation has called all members of this sprawling Velcro family for a week of togetherness. The venue varies: most often Oregon, sometimes Colorado, once California, and in 2017, Branson MO. Everybody can’t come every year, so our numbers have run from a low in the mid-30s to a high of 70. This year’s total is 41. Very significant statistic: 12 are nine years old or younger. I’m not one of the 12—but I’ve been having a lot of fun playing with them, mostly from a discreet distance.
Ed Thompson, patriarch of the Thompson branch, organized this year’s gathering in Branson Westgate Woods. Here you’ll find his flock (including progeny and in-laws and Velcros). His mother Pat Thompson is with us for the first time. We hope not the last. The Darrin Ronde branch is here in full force, including the five Arbaughs and the three Tyler Rondes. Velcro sons Mike Prior and Brian Matlock are in the two-room cabin. Altogether we occupy three four-bedroom and one two-bedroom houses, not counting Rich and Patti Phillips, who are staying in their timeshare on the same grounds. Darrin’s mother Betty and her friend Jan opted for a nearby motel. Quieter that way. This is the first time—but we
hope not the last time–for them, also. (I’ve particularly enjoyed these additions to our geriatric component. My generation needs the reinforcements.)
We regret the Westerners aren’t with us. The Terrill branch along with the Jacob and Widmer and Filby groups didn’t make it this year. Also missing are the Ohanessians (Candy and Michael and son Kent) from down under and assorted others of our larger Velcro family. We’ve managed to be a pretty large and boisterous group without them, anyway, but they’d have added to the merriment.
Almost every year we get to welcome some permanent additions to the family. Tim Narsh, Nick’s best friend from high school, his wife Lisha and their children Ella, Olivia, Hannah and Easton are here for the first time. I told them I expect to see them every year from now on. I made the same speech to another of Nick’s longtime friends, Ally, and her daughter Audrina, almost four.
What fun it is to watch the little ones getting acquainted and bonding. Mostly they are Velcro cousins, but they don’t know who is blood-related and who isn’t. We are simply one big, raucous, happy (most of the time) family. In addition to the children I’ve already named above we got to enjoy the company of Anne Chenault (one); Aedan Ronde (almost three); Eden, Elias and Estin Arbaugh (nine, seven and five); McKenna Denton (four); and Damien (nine) and Serenity (four) Connolly.
The biggest challenge for this growing Velcro family is geographical. We have units in TN, MO, CO, AZ, CA, OR, and Australia. Will we be able to continue this annual vacation together with so much space separating us? This gathering takes a lot of commitment, to say nothing of the miles and dollars involved. As with normal families, our children grow up and move away. (Of course, the children are quick to point out that in this instance it’s the great-grandparents who moved away first.) So far we’re making this work because the next generation is now in charge, making the arrangements, gathering us all together, making certain no one is left out. As long as they care this much, we’ll be all right.
We’re often asked what we do when we get together. The answer: just about everything you can think of. All the family and individual units are free to come and go as they please by day. The requirement is the common meal each evening, prepared and hosted by one of the branches, assisted by others. I’m writing this section on Thursday. It’s the great-grandparents’ turn. Joy’s preparing a feast of pulled pork and all the trimmings. I’ll do the dishes. [It turned out that we had special guests, so I ended up talking with them while Kyle Denton took my shift at the dishwashing chore. How great it is when your grandkids grow up and help you out!]
Then almost every night we assemble around a campfire or in one of the houses for our long-standing ritual of singing and story-telling and embarrassing one another with the “Remember when?” anecdotes. Some of these stories have been hauled out of storage every year for decades now, like the one of Brian attacking his best friend’s grandmother, or any number of this preacher’s mistakes in the pulpit–and out of it, or the famous Jeep story, a relic from our first outing at Cultis Lake (OR) in 1995, when our new son-in-law buried Jeff’s Jeep in the lake.
Church on Sunday was at the Woodland Hills Family Church. We were impressed with everything about the service, especially the church’s charismatic, energetic, totally engaging pastor. Is this guy be for real? He is. We corralled him in the foyer after the service, where we learned that he’s the same person offstage that he is onstage. He even photo-bombed the group picture we posed for. Rich and Patti and Darrin and Julie already knew Ted Cunningham. Thanks to them, Ted invited us out for a couple of unforgettable hours in his boat.
So on Wednesday morning he picked up as many of us as his boat could handle and we went cruising, a real gift from a busy pastor. The highlight for me was being towed behind the boat on an inflatable tube with great-granddaughter Eden. As we were hanging on for dear life, this precious little girl and her decrepit friend, I realized that 70 years separated us. When I climbed back into the boat I felt every one of those years!
Still, not every man can boast of a girlfriend 70 years his junior. The glory of the achievement was dimmed somewhat, however, as both her father Tom and her grandfather Darrin horned in on the act. They quickly broke my endurance record. Young showoffs!
Other highlights: 1) Going to Six, a terrific a cappella concert. No musical instruments but their own voices. The Knudson Brothers, as they were called when they appeared on the Donny and Marie Osmond Show in the ’90s, are six of ten brothers. The other four play supportive roles backstage. Their show has been around a long time and still manages to draw crowds with good voices, great sound effects, and a family-friendly program that climaxed with “Proud to be an American” and “How Great Thou Art.”
2) The next day 27 of us took in the musical drama Moses. It was a stunning performance. Yes, the plot takes liberties with the biblical account, but we expected that. Overall we gave the show a ten. Once again we heard some memorable music. It held the attention of all of us, even the little ones, right up to the final curtain. (Well, maybe I stretched the truth about the young children. They did get a little restless. I didn’t. I took my nap during the first half, so I was wide awake at the end.)
3) We also had a mini reunion within the reunion. Dirk Myers was a high school kid in the youth group of Mesa Central Christian Church. Our daughter Kim and Dirk reconnected on Facebook about a year ago. Discovering that he and his Kat live in Joplin, she arranged for them to join us Thursday evening. What a treat this was! I confess, though, I had forgotten how tall Dirk is (6’4″). We took a standing picture with him, Brian and me. Let’s just say I look much better in this one of him and Kim. Nobody’s standing.
As is always the case when we’re together, the time to leave comes too soon. On Saturday we will checkout by 10 AM and head toward our next destinations. Most will return to home and jobs. Ed and Kim are an exception. They depart for their new house in Wentzville, just west of St. Louis. Ed’s Boeing job allows him to live wherever he wants, so after several years in Seattle he and Kim have opted to return to St. Louis, closeR to their kids and grandkids. Smart move. Joy and I are the other exceptions. We’d go home, too, if we had one.
Instead we’ll head out first to Joplin to visit Dr. Teresa Welch, my former Emmanuel Christian Seminary colleague, and get a full report of her time in Scotland with Dr. Miriam Perkins, the ECS professor friend in whose home we lived in Johnson City. Then we’re on our way to the North American Christian Convention in Kansas City, from which we’ll post our next installment of Lawsonsontheloose.net.
JOY’S PICK OF THE PICS