My Dad is one of seven children. Seven children who all married, had many children who are now having little curtain climbers of their own. You get the idea: we have a BIG family growing exponentially. Some would say there are too many of us to gather for a weekend-long family reunion. But the Anderson’s are a close-knit bunch. And my 91-year old grandfather loves having all of his family in one place once a year, which really isn’t so much to ask considering how much we all love him. But it’s really quite amazing, dozens of families driving and flying from all over to come to this 72-hour event.
Over the years, the reunion evolved as our numbers continued to grow. It started out in my grandparents’ modest home in South Sioux City, Nebraska. Sibs and spouses each in a room with the first few grandkids sleeping on cots and in sleeping bags. When it became clear that the clan was outgrowing the house we moved to hotels (for a couple years we went to a less-than-classy establishment called “The Pink Flamingo” purely because it was close to my grandparents’ house and it had a pool). But the hotel rooms felt too disconnected. We never knew where anyone was. We needed a common area where we could gather and do what we Anderson’s do best: eat, drink and talk…for hours. And then, of course, there was the issue of cooking. Eating out is expensive with a group our size.
There aren’t many places that can accommodate seventy people (Yes seventy). But about eight years ago we found a place in the Smoky Mountains of Knoxville, Tennessee. One massive house with seventeen bedrooms and a room full of bunk beds. We rented an adjacent cottage for a few extra bedrooms and we were set. The major selling point—it had two enormous living rooms and, more importantly, two full kitchens.
For the past several years we hired two lovely women (who are more like family than friends) to come in and cook for us so that we could just focus on the visiting, catching up and having fun. But this year the reunion was short so it was decided that we would save a little money and cook ourselves. It was a heck of a lot more work than anyone expected and my aunt Susan and uncle Steve spent the majority of the time in the kitchen. Of course we all pitched in and helped, but cooking for and cleaning up after a group that large is hard, no matter how much has been pre-planned and organized. The first night, Aunt Susan came prepared to feed weary travelers with a stick-to-your-ribs and warm-your-belly dinner: Sloppy Joe’s.