The Remember When . . . Game

I have been making annual (at least) treks to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park for exactly 30 years now.

My very first trip with the McFarland clan to the mountains of Tennessee was during the summer of 1992. Jason had just graduated from high school – and I was preparing to start my senior year. I was 17 years young (almost 18). Jason was 18. In other words – we were about Jack and Caitlyn’s age.

Jason and I were just babies in this picture!

The mountains of Tennessee are filled with treasured memories for our entire extended family.   Linda (my mother-in-law) has been going to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park since she was a little girl with her parents and siblings.

Almost every trail we hike – road we drive – restaurant we dine in and even the arcade where our kids squander our hard-earned money is infused with a memory or 300 or 3,000. Seriously – Jason and I wasted money in Fannie Farkles Arcade on the main drag of Gatlinburg in our youth and now Jack – Nic – Bella and Will do too.

The day our Jack became a junior GSM park ranger. All 4 of the cousins have done this!

Every time a waitress asks us if – “we have dined with them before?” We answer in a cacophony-like chorus of “Yes! Yes- we have!” Likely many – many times.

We play a lot of the “remember when . . . game” when we are all gathered together in Tennessee. We delight in playing the “remember when . . . game.”   Remember when John . . . Remember when Jack . . . Remember when Bella . . . Remember when we . . . Remember when . . . Oh how we delight in our remembering!

Little Jack and Tiny Nic playing in the National Park together.

Going over our favorite memories is one of this life’s greatest blessings. I have noticed my brother-in-law – John and I are particularly fond of this “remember when . . . game.” (Perhaps – John and I are the sentimental ones in the clan. I know I certainly am! Or perhaps it is our way of grounding ourselves in the clan . . . of proving we DO belong . . . of staking our claim . . . of claiming our place in this family we love so much.)

The tales and stories and memories flow as freely as the mountain streams we hike beside. We remind ourselves and our children of who they are and who we are. And now that our children are older – they too join in the storytelling and the remembering.

2 Junes ago before we all set off to hike or bike around the Cades Cove loop.

Our stories are important because they remind us – we are people who love one another deeply and unconditionally – BUT you can expect to be teased and the butt of the occasional joke. (No one in our clan is allowed to take himself or herself too seriously! A stuffed shirt of a person would REALLY NOT fit-in with our crew . . .) We are people who laugh a lot. And – we laugh AT ourselves!

We are people who make room at the table and in the family photo for more folks! We are never too full to make room for more folks. This year we added Debbie and Caitlyn to the crazy clan. (It was their first deep dive into life with ALL of us! Such brave – fearless young women!)

At the top of Clingmans Dome. Only Papa is missing. (Bob is still recovering from back surgery and hikes like that simply aren’t in his regimen just yet.)

We are people who hike A LOT!!! We are encouragers and loving and we leave no man – child – woman or lazy – stubborn dog behind. But there will be hiking. There is ALWAYS hiking.

We talk and chat and chatter and BARK loudly! We don’t necessarily talk loudly – but the barking – well that is always LOUD!

We are goofy. Sometimes really – really goofy!

Did I mention the walking and the hiking?

We are happy to let people be themselves. I have never – ever been to Dollywood or the adjoining water park and NEVER plan to go. Neither are my cup of tea. Most of the clan goes every – single year (usually multiple times in one vacation).   They love the crowds and riding the roller coasters and the pork rinds. I like none of those things. So – I stay home with the dogs – my books and my yarn. But there is no guilt – no emotional blackmail. Just – “happy knitting and reading!”

I love spending time in the mountains of Tennessee with our family.   I love that our sons know the blessing of extended family. That Will and Jack spend day after day bonding with their Auntie and Uncle – their cousins and their Mimi and Papa. That they know this kind of unconditional love and acceptance and joy.

It is so grounding. So wonderful to be reminded that these are “our people” who love us no matter what life brings. That these people share some of the very same memories. That they delight in some of the same history. That we are a family. That being family doesn’t always mean sharing the same last name or genetics. Sometimes family is a choice.   The choice to love and laugh and make and share memories. The choice to accept and care and nurture and walk with.

Family . . .

Our time together in the mountains Tennessee helps life make a bit more sense. It is grounding. It reminds us of who we are and whose we are.

It is one of my life’s greatest blessings.

Last week we added more stories and more memories for the telling and the treasuring.

“The day Mimi bought Aunt Kerri THE PIN . . .” The roar of laughter from every member of my family when I received my special gift from my mother-in-law is something I will NEVER forget! The PIN will go down as a new family story for sure.

Laughing so hard I couldn’t stand up straight!

“Seeing Dolly Parton IN PERSON at Dollywood!” That will certainly make it into family lore too.

I love living a good story. I love telling a good story. I really love re-telling a good story!

What grounds you? What reminds you of your place in the world? What fills you with joy?

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