Thursday, August 19, 2010

Children of the Corn

Originally uploaded by gr8wendini
I was born with the last name Corn. It was Korn in the ‘old country’ but we can blame Ellis Island for that. 10 years ago was the inaugural “Children of the Corn” Family Reunion in the Midwest (my parents are from Chicago). A concept dedicated to keeping family ties, creating traditions, sharing oral history, laughter and having a sense of knowing our relatives. My cousin, Sara Gorr introduced the concept initially as a dedication to her late Grandmother, my aunt, Florence Gorr, who inscribed the importance of family and we ran with it. The Corn’s have humor in the gene pool, so riffing off the 1984 horror film Children of the Corn; we used it as our own. My cousins Sara, Lila Rosenweig, and Marily Schonthal spearheaded the effort again 10 years later, back by ‘popular request’ 60+ family members turned up at the Perlstein Resort in the Wisconsin Dells where a ‘once in a decade’ tradition was born.

When you hear the words “Family Reunion” mostly people cringe. It conjures up all kinds of emotion ranging a natural feeling of uncertainty, viewing it perhaps as some kind of obligatory company picnic where everyone wears the t-shirt and plays nice to ‘I’d rather staple my lips together’. My personal hesitation was the projected judgment that I’m in my early 40’s and single--still single with a few ‘almosts’ in my life. In 2000, at the first reunion, I was set to go with my then Australian boyfriend who had the chutzpah to break up with me right before we were to get on the plane! I was devastated. I arrived to the first CotC reunion with a broken heart. I lost a love that day, but found an unexpected one in my family. Like Toula Portokalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding says “My family is big and loud but they're my family. We fight and we laugh and yes, we roast lamb on a spit in the front yard. And where ever I go, what ever I do they will always be there.” This year, I again found myself less than excited that I didn’t have a significant other, kids or even the badge of honor of being married and divorced. Fortunately for me, my mountain of emotion dissolved once I landed there and engaged in the connections that this unique opportunity offered. Really, it’s a once in a lifetime event because this particular configuration of family present will never be duplicated again. It looked totally different 10 years ago with many not even born yet, and of course, some have passed since. I’ve got an amazing family ranging from 2 to 98 years old. Intelligent, funny, wise, interesting, opinionated, talented from all walks of life and from all over the world including Israel, UK, New Zealand, East/West coasts & the Midwest —people I want in my life—lucky for me, we’re related and I know where they live.

The miracle of the event was that my Aunt Ruth, 97 years, the oldest living Corn and my Uncle Jack, 98 (99 in September) attended, and stayed! We thought they’d come for a day, and be in the family portrait—and that would have been enough (Dayenu), but they kept on feeling good and so they were there all 3 days! We didn’t know if Aunt Ruth would make it. She’s had health complications, pneumonia twice last winter, a broken hip more recently, all par for the course. But she did, and Uncle Jack too. She’s got an incredible memory—citing dates and people’s home addresses and she’s an animated story teller who just loves holding court as we all circled around and listened to stories of my Grandmother Bessie and Grandfather Morris. They had a Bakery in Chicago and Morris used to sleep on the burlap bags of flour he worked so hard—you know—those stories.

Ruth Rose is my father’s only living sibling. My dad, Bernie Corn, (whom I call Pop Corn) is 82—he’s ‘the kid’ of the family, which makes me the kid of the kid, having 2 significantly older brothers-- my first cousins’ children, my first cousins once removed, are my age.

“Wendy”, my cousin Lila wrote, “I don’t want to put you on the spot, but, how would you feel about teaching a yoga class?” well, I hadn’t been teaching in years, but I got excited and nervous and grabbed my yoga school teacher training notes and strung together a beginner class. I had the pleasure and honor of sharing my passion with eight family members—including my mom, brother, niece, sister-in-law there they were in downward facing dog, balancing poses and ultimately shivasana. What a memory that was. It’s just not your ‘standard-fare’ family reunion--whatever that is. I definitely know for sure the Corn’s are some distinctive crop.

There was plenty of free time during the day for excursions to Water Parks, Dairy Queen, the neighboring lakes of the Dells and general kibitzing balanced with the purpose we were there. Other cousins, Alan Gorr and Toby Rose, organized a memorial service where we lit candles and said the names of our loved ones no longer with us, whose memory lives on.

Another aspect that rounded out this happening, was the division of family members into three ‘activity planning’ factions. Each group had a turn to introduce a different interactive ice-breaker game each night after the entirely non-memorable dinner (let’s just say you don’t go to the Perlstein Resort for the food). It may sound cheesy (we were in Wisconsin after all,) but it was unexpectedly entertaining sharing both amusing and profound stories with the group or raising hands in a “Have you ever…” truth or lie diversion. It was a fun and meaningful way to get to know these people. I would have conversations and say-“Wait, how are we related?” Then we’d go to the Family Tree banner (thank you cousin Peter) and put it together.

I live in several ‘communities’ (Jewish, spiritual, yoga, film, fashion) and I believe in the concept of ‘chosen family’—friends that nourish us emotionally and love us unconditionally--the ones you want to be around because they uplift you. My take away from the Children of the Corn family reunion is that I have ’community’ in my very own family. If you were to be your own movie director, and ‘cast’ your Thanksgiving table with your favorite people, who would they be? Chances are, they’re a mix of blood and chosen family. Mine is.