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Arts & Culture

Family Reunions: A Tradition in Decline?

Ashley Appleman

Family reunions are a common summer tradition for many Americans. But what happens when a family tradition, spanning generations, starts to fade? WYSO Community Voices producer, Ashley Appleman, tells us the story of the 49th and final Over Family Reunion.

In July I traveled home to Woodbury, PA for the final Over Reunion. I must admit, I hadn’t gone for the past 10 years –school, moving out of state—it wasn’t a priority. However, attending this one was important to me– the end of a tradition I had known since childhood.

While I was home, George and his sister Marian Over Grassmyer, told me about the reunion’s beginning.

"The first reunion was held in 1966. It was an occasion for the decedents of Howard and Fannie Over to get together for a picnic. And, the trend continued for 49 years," said George.

"I remember as a child of being about six years old, going to the home farm," said Marian. "And people would come in their cars from Philadelphia and it was a big occasion to get together with these cousins that we rarely saw except this once a year reunion time."

Credit Ashley Appleman
Members of the Over family at this year's final reunion

George and Marian planned this year’s events, their family’s turn in a five-year rotation. But, before the planning began, they and other members of the eldest living generation decided it was time to end the yearly tradition.

"I think at our highest point we had over 100 people gathering," said Marian.

"Over the last couple years, the attendance has been dwindling," said George. "The older folks, of course no longer with us, and the younger folks are scattered far and wide. And so, it was hard to get a large group together. The last several years there have been like 30, 35 people attending. And so, the ones in charge decided it was probably time to discontinue the annual reunion. So, it just happened to be that this year the responsibility was on the Harold Over family. We decided that this would be a large affair for the grand finale."

The night before the reunion I sat on a barstool in the kitchen of my childhood home with my mother, Cindy Over Appleman, reminiscing about the family reunions we attended when my sister and I were young.

"I don’t go to any anymore.  And, at one time we went to the Smith Reunion, The Ebersole Reunion, and The Over Reunion every year. Oh, and at one time we actually went to the Carper Reunion, so I missed that one. We had four reunions. Yes, and they were big – very big," my mother said.

"It just seemed in the last, what, six or seven years, people just didn’t come any more. You know, it’s just the younger generation does not want to continue with going and doing the work to get the families together. It just doesn’t seem to be as important to them as what it has been in the past. Back then you spent your Sundays with your family. Stores weren’t open. Gas stations weren’t open. Sunday afternoons you would go to your grandparents’. That’s very rare now. And, I think that’s the big change. You’re on the go. Sunday’s more or less another day to do your chores, you know, wash your clothes, whatever – go shopping. You would have never done that when I was a kid – absolutely not."

"There are so many mediums for people to stay in touch these days that we didn't have in the past. I just don't know if the younger generation really, including myself, understands the significance of having something like this."

Sunday afternoon at the reunion, standing beside tables of food – Aunt Cheryl’s banana pudding, Lyniece’s baked corn, fried chicken, potatoes done five different ways, and plates full of cookies - I talked to my first-cousin, Jaren Love, a 27 year-old now living three hours away in Pittsburgh; he understands generation gaps. Like me, Jaren and his siblings hadn’t attended in years.

"You know, I think it’s sad, but somewhat understandable," he said. "I think that like, you know, these things were arranged in a time and began in a time when we didn’t have, you know, the internet and social media, and people are able to stay in touch with their family, you know. It’s not one of those things when you’re coming back here and just learning what they’re doing because you don’t know. I mean, there are so many mediums for people to stay in touch these days that we didn’t have in the past. I just don’t know if the younger generation really, including myself, understands the significance of having something like this."

"The next generation wouldn’t feel it like I do, I'm sure," my mother said that final night. "Like tonight I could feel myself just kind-of thinking, 'Oh, this is very sad.' I almost like teared up a little, because this is it."

With the Over Family Reunion now … over, it’s hard not to dwell on the value of these simple traditions and how their absence will affect us all. I wonder: Will my future children know their distant cousins? Will they meet their great aunts and uncles? Will they comprehend the rich history of our family and how close we once were?

"Are we making more out of it than what it was?" my mom asked. "You look back and you think, 'Okay, it was important. It’s one of those things that are going by the wayside. It’s a different time.'"