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Bob O’Connor: Small take is a big problem at a reunion

Certain groups should never reunite: the Soviet Socialist Republics, Tony Orlando and Dawn, and my family. By family, I’m not referring to immediate kin such as spouse, children and grandchildren. I’m talking about siblings (of which I have an obscene number), cousins, second cousins and third cousins twice removed.

The O’Connors and their various subsidiaries and offshoots are planning a big get-together this summer and I am full of dread. It is not that they’re not a bunch of fine people; in fact, I am considered the family goofball. It’s just that I find it uncomfortable chit-chatting with folks I see only at funerals and weddings. If I can’t comment on how beautiful the bride is or how lifelike the deceased looks, I am at a loss for words.

When you are young, you have a strong connection to your brothers and sisters. You live in the same house, go to the same schools and go on vacation together. The same goes for first cousins. You see them at Christmas and birthday parties and you share the same grandparents. Several decades later, those strong connections are gone. I have no idea what’s going on in these people’s lives.

So, when we are all thrown together I get very uncomfortable. A typical conversation goes like this:

Me: Hi Cathy. How have you been?

Her: My name is Margaret.

Me: Of course it is – and how is that husband of yours?

Her: He left me 10 years ago for a younger woman.

Me: Well, great catching up with you, Cath.

And everyone changes so much. When we were young we all shared the same religion, political views and neighborhood. Now, my extended family includes right-wingers, lefties, atheists, socialists and, lords help us, vegans.

I don’t know these people:

Me: What a beautiful little girl.

Them: That is our son, Skylar.

Me: Well. It is a lovely dress he’s wearing.

Them: We’re raising our child in a gender-neutral environment. We believe sex should be a considered choice, not a biological mandate.

Me: Sounds like my wife.

Them: You really are a goofball.

And why is it that we must have activities and games? Last reunion someone brought a bounce house the size of the Buffalo Bills Fieldhouse. When the generator failed, we nearly lost an entire generation under the weight of a collapsing vinyl castle.

Inevitably, someone will bring up a painful childhood memory. “Hey, Bob! Didn’t we used to call you poop for brains?”

“Gosh” I reply. “I haven’t heard that one in half a century.”

For the rest of the day, I’ll be poop for brains, or poop for short.

Here is my suggestion for the planning committee. Instead of handing out name tags that say “Hello, my name is -----.” I suggest that all attendees give a short description of themselves, so that I can avoid social awkwardness and faux pas by the truckload.

Here are a few concise name tags that would really help me out: RECENTLY DIVORCED; OUT OF CLOSET; MEAN DRUNK; HATES MEN; FOUND GOD; JUST PAROLED

With that kind of information, I would know whom to avoid. My reunion experience would be so much more pleasant. Better yet, we could forgo reuniting at Chestnut Ridge and all meet up at my funeral. At least I won’t be uncomfortable.