Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Yarger Family Reunion

     Few families have traditions that are as old and deep as this, but that's not to say they can't start them now....

An early oleo ad
     This Sunday I'll be attending the 73rd annual Yarger Family reunion.  The reunion started as a way for the Yarger Family to get together and break bread at least once a year.   It used to be held picnic style at a relative's home.  It's held the 2nd Sunday in August.  I'm not sure of the attendance of the early years but I was told that the locals made it a point to attend.  The menu was sandwiches that were placed on a communal tray and passed around.  My dad used to tell a funny story of how he had brought ham sandwiches one year, but when the tray came around, he selected and then bit into a sandwich and exclaimed loudly "MA, someone brought lard sandwiches!! ".  He was quickly shushed as his mom realized that a poorer relative had simply spread oleo on bread (at that time oleo came with a coloring packet to make it look yellow thanks to the butter lobby) and brought that to the reunion.  My Dad would tell the story to make sure that you got the point, that it wasn't about what you had, what you could bring, or where you were at that point in your life, it was about making time for family, if only for one time each year.

My siblings and I at the 2006 reunion
     At some point the reunions outgrew the host households and they started to be held at county parks and other suitable venues. They generally are held near Canandaigua NY, but every decade or so, they move to Pennsylvania for a year to make it fair to those folks that attend.   The sandwiches gave way to the host family planning a menu, so each year now we take up a collection and have a starting fund for the following year.  We've had pig roasts, chicken BBQs, ox roasts and hot dog and hamburgers and the host family always does a great job providing for the crowd.  How big is this crowd nowadays?  Between 100 and 150 people most years. The crowd is made up of the NY Yargers, although a Pennsylvania contingent comes up regularly and the "snowbirds" that migrate from Florida attend too.  My Uncle Abe comes up every year from Florida.  He was likely taught, like I was,
Aunt Margaret, Trudy, Uncle Abe, Aunt Dora and Mom
that there is no excuse for missing a reunion that comes just once a year and is always the same weekend.  Abe actually started a reunion in Florida for the Southern Yargers about 32 years ago and it still goes on today as well. The rest of the crowd at the reunion are guests that family members have chosen to bring.  Think it's intimidating to bring a boyfriend home to Mom and Dad?  Think about bringing one to a reunion with 150 of your Aunts, Uncles, siblings and cousins, oh and they are Yargers.  We've chased many a candidate away, of that I am sure.  The tradition holds that if you make 3 consecutive reunions, you are expected to marry into the family.  The other guests are just close friends who are asked to come by a family member, which seems a little strange to invite non-relatives to a family reunion, but I suspect this tradition goes back to the "open door" policy of the Yargers. I've never met a Yarger family who wouldn't take you in, if you were in need of a place to stay, that's just how it's done.

My brother Paul's clan
     The crowd starts arriving around 11am on that day, with each family bringing their dish to pass, and their own table setting.  They stake out a picnic table and set up and then they start visiting.  Some families are known for a particular dish that they bring, and for me a reunion isn't complete without someone making my Aunt Jen's famous blueberry muffins.  I never eat muffins as a rule, but I never could resist hers when she brought them.  My Uncle Abe makes a pretty killer broccoli salad too.  The meal starts an hour or so later, after grace and by then you are sharing a picnic table with a cousin or sibling as the room is near full.  Most years we have to raid neighboring pavilions for a few of their tables.  This year's reunion is at the Ontario County Park (Gannett Hill), and this is the venue I remember the most.  We've had it at Pierce Park in Cheshire too, which once was a part of my Grandfather's farm that he had donated.  After we eat,
My Niece Jen at the Florida reunion
some volunteer children host games for all the kids, and they head off for them.  The meeting is called to order then by the President (elected by majority vote each year) and the Secretary keeps the notes of family business.  The announcement of births, deaths, engagements, military service, and other family matters are read.  The attendance is taken and prizes are generally given for the oldest and youngest and for the farthest traveled.  We elect the officers for the next reunion, ask for host volunteers and set the venue, take up a collection to cover the year's costs and then adjourn.  The rest of the day is spent playing horseshoes, redneck golf, volleyball, baseball or just visiting with family that you don't see too often.  The party breaks up completely around 4-5 o'clock and the hosts have the responsibility of cleaning up and settling up with the park. 

     Before I close, I'll talk a little to the hosting duties and share a couple of stories on the job.  The hosts volunteer each year and this duty is shared by the family membership.  We try and spread it around, so no one family has to do it year to year. The hosts secure the venue (generally on Jan 1st).  This is an important part of the job and you don't want to fall down on this duty.  For a long time, Ontario County Park only had one pavilion large enough to accommodate the family and we were in fierce competition with the Pierce family who hosts their reunion the same day.  As a new host about 25 years ago, I had the duty and tried to book
My sister Hummingbird
the park a few days after the new year and was shut out.  That year, we had to use 4-5 pavilions in tandem
and I'll never forget the look of disappointment that I got from my father that I had failed in this duty.  The hosts purchase and cook the meat and coffee, and stay until the end to clean the facility and cart the trash away.  A few years ago, my sister Hummingbird volunteered to host the reunion during a year where our family had just hosted.  When I approached her afterwards, about this choice, she said that she didn't need my help, that she had a catering friend that would be assisting the next year.  When next year came, sure enough, the call came to see what "we" would be cooking for the reunion.  I assisted her, of course, but can't say that I did it graciously.   Towards the end of that day, when she attempted to leave before the rest of the crowd, I kind of went off on her to remind her of her duties as hostess, and she took a burn to it.  She's a good cleaner already, but I have to say, I've never seen the tables scrubbed down as hard as they were that year.  We both stormed off at the end and about 20 minutes later I was headed down Gannett Hill with the cooker in tow.  I heard something dragging, so I stopped at the bottom of the hill and while I was checking the rig, I noticed her car, across the road.  As mad as she was, she stopped to make sure that my family was going to get home safely.  I reached out to her the following day and remarked on how surprised I was by her caring act, in the midst of our disagreement, and what she replied caps off this blog nicely.  She simply remarked " Of course I stopped, we're Family". 



Gayle Hendershot said...

Love it! I know the ""Paul Yargers" received those messages much better than the rest of us wimps. We respect and LOVE you all for your family loyalty and work ethic. <3

cdyarger said...

That Hummingbird is a class act! We are lucky to call her family! Oh, and to Dan B - you know it was your turn so many years ago - we were supposed to alternate years so neither of us got "stuck" with Bill, LOL! I look forward to the Yarger Reunion every year anyway!

Karen yarger said...

I went 3 years in a row.

Kristin Yarger said...

Sad I can't be there again this year but I'll be thinking of you all! Have a cold one for me!!!

stan hess said...

I hope that you get to read this. I need to purchase the genealogy record. I forget who does this. I am Stan Hess, descendant of Bertha Yarger. My father, Ralph son of Bertha, will be 100 this year

Bill said...

Stan - please send me an e-mail @ wyarger@rochester.rr.com and I can help