A happy memory never wears out.
Amish Proverb

The Wengerd clan holds tight to certain traditions. Last August, the entire extended family made their annual trek to a favorite lake for a weekend camping trip—a sixteen-year tradition. “Some things that happen every year,” said Marjorie Wengerd, mother of seven, “are the lively singing and discussions around the campfire, brightly lit by the hollow log set on end.” Marjorie said that her brother, Jake, keeps his eye open all year for such logs. “This last summer, it took seven men wrestling a huge, hollow, six-foot log upright into the red-hot embers of the fire pit, creating a chimney fire that was something to behold.” The circle of people around the fire increased, and the hour grew late as folks lingered and had second helpings of Marjorie’s special homemade peach ice cream.

Marjorie said that most of their meals are cooked outside over the open fire and on the grill. “For breakfast, we did fried eggs, scrambled eggs, potatoes, sausage gravy, and side pork on the grill. For one of the suppers, we cooked a campfire stew over the fire. One evening, we made bacon-wrapped jalapeño peppers over the coals and grilled some barbecued chicken. For dessert, we brought homemade brownies and chocolate chip cookies.”

When the Wengerds first arrived at the campsite on Friday evening, word was soon passed around that the lake contained algae that was toxic to fish and deemed unhealthy for humans. “What?!” Marjorie said. “We can’t go swimming? On the hottest weekend of the summer? Impossible!” Later in the evening, camp staff informed the Wengerds that the pool at the neighboring 4-H camp was available if they wanted it. “Did we ever!” Marjorie said. “We ended up being thankful for the algae. We did not need to wonder what critters were swimming with us in those clear waters like we usually do in the murky lake water. We wonder if we could arrange for algae next year?!”

Each family took a turn at bringing and preparing a meal for everyone. “We even started a new tradition,” Marjorie said. “For the last two summers, my niece and her new husband have treated everyone to fresh doughnuts fried in a pan over the fire for breakfast. We all stand around and eat them while the glaze is still dripping off. You don’t get fresher than that!” Marjorie’s elderly uncle, Philip, led devotions each morning.

On Saturday, the men and boys went off to find a non-algae-fied stream to fish. “They had fun fishing but went through a lot of bait,” Marjorie said. “I think they enjoyed feeding the fish the bait more than catching them to keep.”

That evening, after a full day of volleyball and a rigorous game of softball that ended with a tie of nine runs, they made kettle corn in a large black kettle. “This was another new tradition we started this year.”

A close brush with some overly friendly skunks caused some anxious moments. “Those skunks chased a few ladies into cabins for the rest of the night,” Marjorie said. “And by the next day, it was time to pack up and head home. It was so nice to get away from all the work at home, but when we walked into our house, it seemed extra big after staying in tiny tents and cabins a couple of nights.”

Over the years, the Wengerd clan has grown through births and marriages. “Our number is now forty-two, but it seems there is never a year when everyone can be there. Still, it’s always a blessing to reconnect and find out what is going on in everyone’s life. We always thank God when we arrive back home safely after the reunion, with added blessings and oh so many good memories.”

Road Map: Getting There from Here

Sometimes, the simplest things in life are the very best.

Sometimes, the simplest things in life are the very best. Children often have a better grasp of that concept than adults. The Wengerds’ family gathering was about as simple as a vacation can get: tent camping, food cooked on an open fire, swimming in a lake (or a pool!). And the joy of being together. As you plan your next family trip, think about what you want your children to remember. What memory is going to stand out for them—the place? Or most likely, the people. Factor that thought into your trip—wherever it might be.

The Amish keep in close contact with their large extended families. Relationships are vitally important. Have you ever tried to create a family reunion? The benefits are numerous: they give a family context and a sense of belonging. Children learn “the family story”—the wonderful parts and the not-so-wonderful parts. Even the sometimes embarrassing stories can be a powerful way for your children to soak up words of warning, caution, or regret.

In their own words . . .

For Rhoda and I, it was a huge disappointment to stay at home. My kidney is doing its annual thing in ridding itself of calcium deposits—stones, in layman’s terms. Men are, in spite of a cultivated macho image, real wimps when it comes to pain. And I am no exception. Last year we attended a family reunion in Indiana during the time of my affliction. Which was a mistake. I fear that those cousins not acquainted with the real me came away thinking, “The guy’s a real grouch.”

—Scribe from Auburn, Kentucky

Another lovely day has dawned after a most spectacular sunset last evening. The whole western sky was a vibrant orange, more than I can ever remember seeing! We all stood outside awhile, marveling at the handiwork of God.

—Scribe from Sligo, Pennsylvania

*Excerpted from Amish Values for Your Family

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