After seven tiring hours in a van with no air conditioning, we arrived. It had been a long day of running into every possible detour, a million and a half “necessary” potty breaks, and a never-ending journey through the middle of nowhere. But to my surprise, we didn’t arrive at a hotel. Instead, the van shifted into park outside a beautiful home replicated to look like a French chÃ¢teau. The entire interior and exterior of ‘the castle,’ as we called it, was absolutely remarkable. A winding staircase showed itself as you stepped through the front door and led on to billiard tables, an indoor hot tub, and dozens of bedrooms; producing just enough space for each member of our extended family. To my relief, the fun didn’t stop there. We went on to activities such as tubing and kayaking down the Wisconsin River, hiking in a plethora of trails, swimming in a national park, spending a day in the Wisconsin Dells, and fine dining in numerous animated restaurants. At that point, I couldn’t even remember smiling that much at any previous reunion.
However, that very smirk I had worn on my face all week wore off on our second to last day of vacation. My uncle had recently turned forty and to celebrate, we were throwing him a surprise party at a nearby restaurant. Everyone got all dressed up; even the younger kids tied their ties and smoothed their dresses in preparation for the big night. One of my mom’s sisters and her family went on ahead of everyone else in order to decorate, arrange, and prepare the restaurant for the fanatical family to come. The restaurant itself was located about forty minutes away from the castle, but not even twenty minutes after my aunt and her family left, sirens sounded and a tornado warning was issued. Frantically, all the members left at the castle hurried down into the damp basement as the lights flickered, windows shook, and the baby cried. The radio blared as everyone sat in silence, nervous as to the whereabouts of my aunt. I’m no mathematician or physical scientist, but she was driving right into the sighed twister. By that point, my uncle had put all the pieces together and the surprise had been ruined, but no one seemed to care about the birthday or the party anymore.
As many potty breaks had been taken during the week, so many sighs of relief left the lungs of each grateful relative as that anticipated SUV pulled into the gravel driveway. My aunt and her family gracefully unbuckled and stepped out into the arms a less crazy, and more loving, family. Luckily, they had driven through the storm, escaping the tornado, and had made it to a powerless restaurant before they turned back.
Hugs, smiles, and even an occasional chuckle emerged from the French chÃ¢teau that dark afternoon as did my mind-set. No matter how crazy, different, even twisted that family was, it was mine; and for that, I am truly blessed.
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