Written by Tamara O’Brien as a birthday gift on
Jan. 15, 1998 for her father Ron O’Brien.
It all began with an off-hand remark meant to appease my mother,
"Maybe we'll come to the family reunion in Dufur this summer."
I didn't mean it. I said it to soften the blow that we planned to spend a week on a Michigan lake with my in-laws, instead of making our normal July trek home to Oregon.
I should have known better. The moment I uttered the word Dufur - ancestral voices began to chant. News of our anticipated attendance at the reunion quickly spread throughout the clan. I received phone calls, mailers, and personal notes from long lost relatives. What began, as a remote possibility was fast becoming a fait accompli. I resisted, stalled, forgot to make airline reservations. At last, my mother could stand it no longer, and detonated her sinister weapon of submission: guilt.
"Do what you want, but if you don't show it will be a bigger disappointment to your father than the fact that you've managed to avoid it for the last twenty five years."
She said it in a resigned exhaley way that left no room for rebuttal. Our fate was sealed.
I hung up the phone and stared at the fish tank. No, it would be impossible to drown myself in such a small amount of water - better to accept my fate and make the reservations.
The O'Brien family reunion is a bizarre event, difficult to explain to the uninitiated. It involves camping; not beside a mountain lake, but in the city park of a small, dusty, wheat-farming town. It requires the ritualized eating of beans, potato salad, and other runny foods that make paper plates leak and arteries tremble. There is fly swatting and small talk. There are games in which people put string down their pants and entwine themselves with shirttail relations of all ages. Individuals with whom I have nothing in common but a distant ancestor will embrace and kiss me.
"Oh goody, I can hardly wait," I moan, dialing Southwest Airlines.
But wait I do, through an unexpected volume of calls for low summer fares. I hold, wondering, why Dufur? With Oregon's abundant beauty - rugged coastlines, fertile valleys, alpine forests - why did our ancestors homestead In all that dust? I suppose because dust was free to those brave enough to call it home. My trip there is not free. It costs $600 to secure three last-minute round-trip airline tickets from Oakland to Portland. We are just days away from the tribal tent camp.
"Don't go if you don't want to!" my husband commands. His idea of camping is spending a night in a Holiday Inn. I do not invite him to Dufur, nor do I attempt to explain the unseen force propelling me there. What does one pack for a weekend in the wheat? I own business, cocktail and black tie attire. I have casual clothes, athletic gear of every type, even resort-wear. I do not have Dufur-wear, whatever that may be.
To Be Continued: There are 6 parts to this story by Tamara, and I will give it to you in short segments so you have time to read it.