Every August my mom’s side of the family holds a family reunion in Merrill, Wisconsin. I attend maybe one gathering in three, but hadn’t gone since COVID. Manyu and I went this year, and Clare joined us from Madison.

I was born in Merrill, but my family moved away when I was two years old. My mom is one of sixteen children. I think she is number thirteen, but I’m not sure of the exact order. Most of her brothers and sisters never left town. My aunts and uncles who stayed in Merrill had always been the ones to organize the reunion, but recently the task has been passed down to the cousins. Once or twice it has been suggested that the reunion could be held in La Crosse; I have yet to take the hint. I don’t know how many cousins I have living right in Merrill, but enough that the job can be passed around to a lot of different people. I wouldn’t recognize half of them if I passed them on the street.

With so many aunts and uncles, cousins, cousins once removed, and now cousins twice removed, the reunion draws two hundred people. This year my uncle Ronnie built a bench and asked everyone in attendance to sign it. His plan was to auction it off. At every reunion, an auction is held to raise money to pay for the next year’s reunion. Lots of small items are auctioned off for ten, twenty, maybe thirty dollars. At the end of the auction, there is always one item designed to start a bidding war and bring in a big chunk of money. One year it was Grandma’s china. Another year it was one of her photo albums. This year it was going to be the autographed bench. 

My sister Diane walked up to me and said that my mom really wanted the bench, and my brother and two sisters had decided to get it for her. I, as the oldest of the siblings, apparently had no say in the matter. Denny would participate in the auction, make sure he got the winning bid, and then he, Diane, Kathy, and I would split the cost four ways. The question prior to the auction was not about how high were we willing to go to get the bench. It was wondering the best way to seal the bench so none of the signatures wore off. 

The last I heard, my mom went with a spray-on, satin finish shellac.

Steven Simpson