A couple of weekends ago, 70 of my relatives traveled from across the US to gather in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains for our Jorgensen family reunion. We’ve been doing this every other year since 1965 and honestly it’s a blast! We do the same things every reunion: go-carting Friday night crashing into relatives we haven’t seen since last time; hiking among the boulders and wildflowers, even the little kids; Saturday night talent show, followed by singing until midnight. This year we ranged in age from my 10-month-old granddaughter to celebrating Aunt Jeanette’s 100th birthday. We have an ancestry.com site, a Jorgensen website, books of family stories, a songbook, and a family crest that we all designed one year with butcher paper and crayons. And we have a cookie.
Peppernuts are rock-hard, grape-size cookies, the recipe passed down from our relatives who left Denmark generations ago, through great-grandma’s kitchen, to our own. Most of us make them, especially at Christmastime when they’re devoured by the handful. This year, my cousin Margaret and I held a taste-off to compare our versions. Aunts and cousins who buzzed around concluded that the flavor was the same – with cardamom, cloves, citron, and more – although the texture was a bit different. Both delicious and full of memories.
Those peppernuts are edible ancestry. My mom’s mom was the eldest of 11 children who grew up in Nebraska, offspring of immigrants yearning for a better life on the American prairie than their impoverished Danish seacoast. We’ve retold stories about their struggles and successes, and although we may not know exactly how we’re related to each other, we know we belong.
At an earlier reunion, Aunt Cynthia gave me a hard copy of a New York Times article by Bruce Feiler who wrote, “The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.” He had interviewed researchers who found that children with the most self-confidence and stablest emotional well-being also had a strong “intergenerational self.” They could recall happy family moments as well stories about how family members overcame hardships.
At our reunions we share not just our ancestors’ struggles but also the challenges we’ve faced since we were last together, feeling support from the broad branches of our family tree. We laugh and have fun. As we eat our peppernuts.