Family Reunions: The Real and the Ideal

As Tolstoy wrote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” and that is never truer when it comes to family reunions.

There’s something rather poignant about pictures of family reunions – they chronicle the passing of time and people. But they don’t reveal the tensions and tight lips and twitchy fists that crop up at these periodic gatherings of dozens of personalities bound by blood and  DNA and fumblings under long-gone sheets.

Instead, these graphic portraits usually show something (might it be hope?), suggesting that family reunions give you one more chance to get it right. If you need to, that is. Or want to!

Four out of five people dread family reunions, according to a study quoted in Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, (2002)  a book by Kerry Patterson and Joseph Grenny.

Family reunions, as interpreted by French artist Frédéric Bazille (1841 – 1870)*, appear so peaceful, so proper, and so paradisiacal.

Family Reunion

You want to bound into his Paris studio and ask him, before it’s too late, “Is it real?”

He’d likely answer, “Yes, it’s not always ideal, but it’s real.”

Family Reunion on the Terrace at Meric, 1867

Looking at the faces of Bazille’s people, knowing they woke up every day, ate, talked, laughed, loved, dreamed – you have to wonder about the details behind all that. And in visualizing the menu served on that terrace, you might imagine sparkling glasses of lemonade and buttery pastry filled with red raspberries oozing juice, wasps and bees darting drunkenly from plate to plate.

Food history, in the end, essentially concerns families and their various reunions, doesn’t it?

The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.

~ Erma Bombeck

6 thoughts on “Family Reunions: The Real and the Ideal

  1. Just want folks (at least those who don’t already) know that initials after my name are neither PhD, MD, DDS, nor even LLD. They should be PB — i.e., Phonus-Balonus.

  2. Glad you enjoyed it!

    BTW… that’s “Dr,” not “Dr.” (with a dot) — I’m a “doctor” only in the sense that Dr Pepper is.

  3. No doubt about it, family reunions can be stressful. I wrote an analysis (entirely tongue-in-cheek… OK, maybe not ENTIRELY tongue-in-cheek) of one method families have employed for relieving the the tension of one particular for of family reunion — Thanksgiving dinner. It can be found at

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