Have you ever had someone tell you that life passes in the wink of an eye? Do you look back at your life and see it in stages? Are there milestones or events that mark slow transitions or abrupt changes?
Do you take time to do enjoyable things? Or are you too busy? Are you making memories or just trying to survive?
Family reunions were a big deal for Tom’s family. With his children getting married and grandchildren arriving, doing things together was important to Tom and his wife. None of their children returned to the farm, which was fine with Tom. But he was worried about his grandchildren growing up without understanding their farming roots.
Some of Tom’s children lived close enough to visit frequently, but several lived out of state. With COVID-19 last year, everyone was excited to be together this summer. After lengthy discussions and some negotiations, it was decided to have the reunion back on the farm this year. Tom and his wife were excited for everyone to return.
Tom considered himself somewhat of an entertainer for his grandchildren. He had accumulated numerous types of toys and prepared outside activities for them to do. His wife loved sharing her crafts, books and puzzles. Preparing for a family reunion always brought excitement into their home.
Family reunions were always less than a week long. Some of the kids would come early and spend a few days at the farm. They enjoyed one-on-one time with Tom and his wife.
Then there would be three days of focused fun and reunion activities. By the third day, most were ready to return home.
Some of their kids would hang around the farm for a few more days, reluctant to return home.
On the first day of the reunion, everyone arrived at the house for breakfast. It was like feeding a small army, but Tom and his wife enjoyed everyone being together.
Soon the grandkids were wandering outside while the adults finished up. Tom had two steers he was feeding and planned to butcher them in the fall. While the adults were chatting in the house, some of the older grandchildren walked out to look at the cattle. Some sat on the fence and made their best mooing sounds. Others opened the gate to get a closer look. The bravest kids walked inside.
Seeing an opportunity to escape, the two steers soon walked through the gate and took off like rodeo steers. In only a few moments they were in the cornfield and disappeared just like the Field of Dreams baseball players. With 160 acres and a small waterway and creek on the side, the corn field was a wonderful hiding place.
That was the last time the steers were seen during the entire reunion.
Four-wheeler rides down the waterway and fishing at the creek only showed signs of a few tracks here and there to indicate that the cattle were at least somewhere around. Tom left the gate open with a few buckets of feed hoping they would return.
His children wondered if it was more than a coincidence that the steers got out during the reunion.
Tom owned several go-karts that were always a hit with the grandkids. They were started up early in the morning and only quit when they ran out of gas and needed to be refilled. The go-karts were relatively safe, but the speed and chance to be injured always kept the mothers a little bit uneasy.
On the first day, an 8-year-old grandson ran right into the side of the barn. Tom asked him how fast the barn was going when he ran into it.
There were also several close calls as the younger kids learned how to speed up and slow down. On the third day there was a collision when two over-confident drivers met head-on. No one was hurt, but it was a learning experience for everyone.
Each night Tom would bring out a big box of fireworks. The fathers would be in charge of lighting, and Tom was responsible for keeping the other children out of the fireworks box.
On the first night one of the larger fireworks was put into the tube upside down. It was carefully lit but did not propel itself into the air. There was a loud popping sound, and then the main part exploded, blowing the tube apart and shooting brightly colored glowing fireworks in every direction at ground level.
For just a few moments, this was too much excitement.
Although the next rocket was placed into the new tube correctly, it only shot up 25 feet into the air before exploding. After that, everyone paid close attention to each rocket and prepared to move if necessary.
The second day of the reunion featured a slip-and-slide. The only decent hill on the farm was covered in blue tarps cut into strips about 20 feet wide. This ran for almost 100 feet. With water and dish soap to make things slippery, kids were soon sliding down the hill.
After a while, someone discovered the plastic sleds in the barn leftover from winter sledding. These were a vast improvement over going down on your stomach or back. They could reach amazing speeds and the riders didn’t stop at the end of the tarp but continued to shoot across the grass. With a running start at the top, the sleds would actually go airborne as they hit the ditch at the end and fly over on to the driveway.
As with most things it was all fun and games until someone got hurt. One of the granddaughters scraped up her leg landing on the driveway gravel.
The family reunion continued with sweet corn eating contests, long laser tag games, and shooting sweet corn ears out of the air cannon Tom built several years earlier. Each night the teenagers would sit around a bonfire and talk for hours.
The last night of the reunion, Tom’s wife helped all the grandchildren set off Japanese lanterns. These big, white paper bags with a burning paraffin square in the bottom rose high into the sky. Some traveled up to a mile before the paraffin wax was burnt out. The kids were always excited to help get them off the ground and anxiously waited for their turn. There were seven or eight flying at the same time. Sometimes Tom wondered what his neighbor thought about their loud family reunions and lantern skies.
Much too early for Tom, the reunion came to an end.
All the toys were put away and the lawns picked up. For weeks, Tom’s wife would find fragments of water balloons in the flower beds. The go-karts were pulled back into the barn and would wait until the grandkids returned.
Tom was always sad after the reunion was over because everything seemed so quiet and empty.
The day after the last of the grandchildren left, Tom woke up and went outside to look at everything. Down in his steer pen stood the two steers, munching away on the grain he left for them. Tom slowly walked down and closed the gate. Everything seemed back to normal.
People say time goes by faster every year. For Tom and his wife, it seemed like time was just flying by. For their grandchildren who didn’t have the opportunity of growing up on a farm, having them experience tractor and combine rides, explore the machine shed and shop, and being able to yell and scream as much as they would like was something that doesn’t happen every day. There is much about farming that most people do not understand or appreciate.
There are many opportunities to be creative and daring as parents and grandparents. Let’s hope that 40 years from now, you will be remembered as one of those people who did some crazy things with their grandkids.
Bob Dunaway and Associates offer estate and retirement planning. Gary Johnson can be reached at 563-927-4554 or by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.