Croatian Family Reunion 2011: Keeping Our Family Together
Summer Journal: Family Reunion 2011
What makes people get in their cars and drive for hours or days, or climb on airplanes to travel across the country to come together in one place at one time? Family Reunions. Our family recently had our reunion. About 140 family members gathered on a beautiful vacation farm in rural Perry Co, PA. But, why do we go to such lengths to get together?
Well, there are a lot of reasons. We catch up on each others lives, check out the newest family members, cry for the ones we have lost since the last reunion, reminisce about past weddings, reunions and growing up together. We hug each other, laugh together, and eat tremendous amounts of food. But, that’s not the entire story.
My family story began just as so many family stories began in America. At age 17 my grandfather, Frank, ran away from his life in Croatia. He worked his way through Germany and boarded a ship bound for “freedom.” Frank arrived at the port of Baltimore in the late 1890s and worked as a coal miner in the mines of western Pennsylvania until his retirement. Frank, along with my grandmother, Anna, raised their family together, a blended family, the product of husbands and wives, deaths and remarriages. My grandparents were part of that burst of immigration from Europe in the early part of the 20th century.
These people sought a new way of life, freedom to do as they chose — to live and worship as they wanted without oppression. They were a brave and strong-willed people. People that sacrificed in order to make a better life for themselves and their loved ones.
These immigrants came to America to be Americans. They were fulfilling a dream. They wanted to live as free Americans, to look like Americans, speak like Americans.
Their native languages, though spoken somewhat at home, were soon replaced with English. They worked in the coal mines and steel mills of Pennsylvania. These times, though exciting for them as they began their adventure, were filled with hardships and danger. They worked as servants; they walked in mud-filled streets: lived in boarding houses; saved all they could to buy passage for other family members still living in Europe. They never went back to their homes in Europe. I have a hard time even imaging that scenario.
My grandparents had a family of 13 children. Frank had children when he married Anna; Anna had children when she married Frank. Together they managed to raise an incredible family. Many of these children went on to college to become professional people, a dentist, a lawyer, an engineer, educators and so on. Some worked as their father in the mines. Others built automobiles in Detroit. These children fought in WWII defending the USA and freedom. They raised their own families (my generation) to become professionals also: lawyers, medical research personnel, educators, engineers.
Frank and Anna passed down to these children their values of hard work and dedication to job and family, their strong religious beliefs and the traditions of Croatia. They taught us to dance the polka and sing the old songs. We learned to cook traditional foods. We share those same recipes for life, along with the recipes for foods and holiday traditions, with our families today.
As Grandmother Anna got older she asked one thing of all of us. “Please keep the family together.” And, that’s what we do.
Every 3 years, we gather our family from all over this country together to eat the traditional open-fire roasted lamb, chickens, cabbage rolls, and nut rolls.
We pass around the photo albums, always remembering the people who came before us.
We stop and reflect on the sacrifices of those who came before us and are truly thankful.
We are reminded that it was their hard work, their hardships, their love for each of us that brought us to this place, this life in America.
Keeping our relationships strong gives us all a sense of belonging to something bigger than our daily lives.
With our modern communication tools we can now actually see each other and stay connected in-between actual physical reunions. Facebook friends were made all over the place, email addresses exchanged, digital photo galleries shared and memories made.
As we came together to celebrate the love we will always have for one another, our family reunion certainly tops the charts as on of the best days on our summer road trip adventure.