My Big Fat German Family Reunion

You’ve all seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding, right? Let me tell you – the Germans in my kin could give the Greeks a run for their money. The Family is together for everything.

My grandparents and their children escaped Prussia (pre-east Germany) during World War 2. After a few years living in Deutschland, they were sponsored to live in America and eventually settled in Cleveland, OH. Other than my dad, another sister and one cousin, The Family all live there today.

My cousins are true first generation Americans. All of their parents came from the Old Country. I refer to my siblings and myself as half-first generation; my dad married a California girl. While I had the benefit of a mother born and raised in American culture, my cousins were brought up in the new country by European parents with European ways. Let’s just say life wasn’t warm and fuzzy.

Growing up was way tougher for my cousins than for my sister, brother and me. I think that kept them close together. They may not always agree, but they are solid rocks for each other. 

Every year, The Family gets together for December holidays. This year, our West Coast family (and my East Coast brother) joined them. And I’m so glad we did. We needed to be a part of their lives, even for a few short days. I saw the importance of my own girls experiencing the bond of a large family and listening to the struggles and celebrations through which The Family has been.

Dad and Tante Lucy
My Tante Lucy shares stories each time we visit. Stories no human should have to live through. Tales of hiding, of rape, of murder. My eldest sat wide eyed as she listened to my aunt talk of Russian soldiers searching for her. How she saw the cars coming down the road and quickly hid in a haystack. Telling how she remained silent as the soldiers tromped the grounds and showing the scars from the pitchforks finding her in the hay, yet not revealing her to would-be captors.
Tante Anne and the kids
My Tante Anne, the immigrant with the gentle soul who fought for the rights of her daughter. Born in the mid-50’s, my cousin will always have the mind of a 3 year old. Rather than being institutionalized as so many were during that time, my cousin has been cherished and taken care of by The Family. To this day, my aunt takes a stand for those mentally challenged. 

My cousins have each been through their own personal hells. Through the support of The Family, when one is weak, the rest are strong. They work hard and they play harder. And man – are they fun when they play.

Brats, sauerkraut, and wiener schnitzel are staples with us Germans. The drink of choice…Slivovitz. If you’ve never consumed this plum brandy, erase any images of “sweet” or “rich”. Imagine putting gasoline in a shot glass. It tastes similar. I bet it does the same damage to your insides. Originating in Slavic countries, I’m sure it was drunk to keep warm. I think The Family drinks it for the same reason. Sometimes you need to forget the coldness of life and find the warmth.

We’ve been home for 24 hours. All day I’ve heard from the girls, “I miss my family.” I’m so thankful we had the opportunity to visit, to bond. 

The 2nd generation of cousins are getting older, and I wonder how many generations will pass before The Family will be only a memory.

I pray we can keep the stories alive so our own children and grandchildren never forget. Knowing who I come from leads to compassion for others, sure. But it also helps me have the nature of a servant with those who share my blood.

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