This weekend was the McDowell family reunion. Brett and myself, along with Don, Sheri, and Rachel, headed down to Washington, Iowa, to meet up with Brett's extended family.
Let me tell you, this was one family reunion. It included all the descendants of "Grandma and Grandpa" McDowell and their spouses. The McDowells were Brett's great-grandparents (the parents of his grandmother on his mom's side), so you can imagine how many people were there. And if you can't imagine, well, let me spell it out for you: one hundred and forty-six. And that's not including the relatives that couldn't make it! Everyone kept apologizing to me for how overwhelming the whole weekend must have been, but there really wasn't anything overwhelming about it. These people are some of the kindest, most welcoming human beings I've ever met...and now I can call them family.
The weekend included all the great camping activities such as canoeing, swimming, and hiking. On Saturday, I experienced what is called a "wiener roast," accompanied by a hay ride; and on Sunday night, we had a family talent show (mixed with "Minute To Win It"). But the highlight of my weekend was the Sunday worship service. One of great grandsons who is a minister gave a sermon and then opened up the floor for people to share memories of Grandma and Grandpa McDowell. The stories that people shared were absolutely incredible to hear. I now know where Brett gets so many of the qualities that I fell in love with. Grandma Ruth McDowell was actually Grandpa McDowell's second wife. She married him after his first wife had died, leaving him with six children, the youngest of which was severely mentally handicapped. Against many warnings, Ruth accepted the challenge of this new family, welcoming the children as her own, and even naming her first child Edna, after Grandpa's late wife. She said that Edna would be the bridge between the two families. One of her daughters (Brett's grandma's sister) said, "We knew in our heads that we were technically step-siblings, but we never felt it in our hearts."
I sat listening to story after story about this couple that loved so deeply and unconditionally. I was fighting back tears the entire time, and I didn't even know these people. I am hardly even related to them. What struck me the most was how important faith and family were to the McDowells. And how they were able to pass that heritage along to their children, who passed it on to their children, and so and so forth--four generations later.
I left the reunion overwhelmed with gratefulness. I was born into one incredible family. And now I have another one to add to the list. Pretty amazing.
We are currently in Omaha waiting for our flight to Paris! We're spending a week there and in London and then heading to visit my family in Sweden! We will attempt to keep you updated via the blog...