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  • Maggie Wallem Rowe

God Be With Us Till We Meet Again

Son-in-law Ben and granddaughter Rosemary on the opening night of Family Camp 2021 on July 4!

As I leaned over our oldest granddaughter’s bed in our cabin to kiss her goodnight this past Saturday, Libby looked up at me, her big blue eyes reflecting pools.

“Mormor, I wish Family Camp lasted two weeks instead of one.”

“I do too, sweetheart,” I said, my own eyes beginning to leak. “I don’t like saying goodbye to you.”

We are fortunate that it’s only a ten-hour drive to the home of our nearest grandchildren, but it’s far enough that we can’t see them or their cousins nearly as often as we’d like. Mike and I had spent the week at Rowe Family Camp in a county park in West Virginia – the 40th annual gathering of four generations of the extended Rowe family.

Every year since 1981, we have rented cabins at Grand Vue for a weeklong vacation with Mike’s parents, six siblings, our children, and now grandchildren. There were 21 of us stuffed into two cabins our first year. Forty years later, we had 65 in seven cabins last week. We would number 85 if everyone were able to be present – a near impossibility for many of the young working adults and families who live west of the Mississippi.

Cousins Connor, Phoenix, and Isaac (generation four) preparing to zipline

The 32 children in Gen 4 love the freedom of running from cabin to cabin or the pool or playground. We joke that they are feral creatures, but free-range is more like it. They know they’ll be welcomed, fed, and entertained wherever they happen to turn up.

Grandson Everett is toted around Camp by great-nephew Mathieu. When Mathieu was little, our son did the same for him.

In the first sentence of his novel Anna Karenina, Tolstoy wrote that happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

I’ve often wondered at the meaning of that famous line.

Families are certainly not all alike. When friends hear about our annual gathering, some shudder at the thought of spending seven days with dozens of their nearest relations. Others are wistful, commenting that it would never work in their clan. Still others have their own tales to tell of special family traditions, reunions, and get-togethers.

But happiness does have common denominators.

We’re happy when we accept our loved ones as they are, not as reflections of ourselves.

I’m quite certain the adults in our extended family voted for different candidates in the last presidential election. We also have varied views on vaccinations and other issues, but the love between us is greater than that which could divide us. Unanimity is not necessary to have unity.

We’re happy when we have opportunities to serve one another.

For 40 years, we have delegated meal duties so that no family has to cook dinner for the entire crowd more than once. Last week some of us organized a family variety show while others arranged catering, decorations, photo booth, slide show, and dance party for the big 40th Celebration in Grand Vue’s banquet hall. The grandchildren who were young in the 80’s are now the ones making memories for the great-grands. It's a wonderful thing to see.

Family banquet celebrating 40 years of Camp

We’re happy when we can celebrate one another.

This year a nephew released his first graphic novel, years in the making, and we applauded. A brother was finally able to drive to Camp from his new job on the east coast rather than flying in from the west, and we cheered. A great-niece announced her intention to hold her wedding during Camp next year so we can all be present, and we screamed with joy.

And in the midst of great sadness, we’re happy to still have each other.

This year was the first in which neither Momma or Poppa Rowe were present. We cried, we remembered, we gave thanks for their legacy of love that keeps bringing us together. Generation One has passed away, and the seven siblings – now six – are the elders. At our banquet, we paid special tribute to the four adults and two children who are lost to us on this side of eternity.

But they are found to Him.

On Saturday, our final night at Camp, brother-in-law John - now the family patriarch - gathered us for our farewell song.

"God be with you till we meet again;
By His counsels guide, uphold you,
With His sheep securely fold you;
God be with you till we meet again."

Late that night, I held onto Libby a little longer, not wanting the week to end. I kissed her goodnight, with the promise of one last breakfast together in the morning.

And then she looked up at me, blinking, when she heard the catch in my voice. That child is very good at catching.

“Mormor, it’s OK,” she said consolingly. “We can cry again tomorrow.”

And I laughed until I cried.

Copyright 2021 Maggie Wallem Rowe



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