Family reunions and other reasons to drink

ESTES PARK — Greetings from beautiful Estes Park, gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park and home of the famous Stanley Hotel — the inspiration behind Stephen King’s terrifying thriller, “The Shining.” I’m here for something even scarier: a family reunion.

Reunions are intimate, private get-togethers, so I won’t mention which side of my family is holding the reunion because that would upset my father-in-law. For our purposes, let’s just call them “Family X.”

There sure are a lot of interesting people in Family X. Remember those oddballs back in high school? The kids who you know would one day show up on either “Cops” or “The Jerry Springer Show”? At some point you’ve probably wondered whatever happened to those miscreants.

Well I found them. All of them.

They are staying with me here at the dude ranch. There are 60 of them in all, and most of them have traveled great distances to be here. Why? Love and familial bonds are very strong. In fact, there is only one powerful, unifying force in this world that could make this many people voluntarily interrupt their lives and travel thousands of miles: free food.

Some of the family hails from Pennsylvania. The fact they would journey this far away out-of-state implies there is a lot of love in this family. It also implies that the Pennsylvania parole system is very lenient.

Not all of them are shady characters. Yet as with any gathering of relatives, there is always the possibility of conflict. Which helps explain why this is the only family reunion I’ve ever attended where you’ve had to first go through a metal detector.

So far, everyone is getting along great and enjoying their surroundings, even though — just down the road from us — the now-famous Fourmile Canyon forest fire has just begun its ravenous assault on the dry mountainside. Just so we’re clear, I am in no way implying that my in-laws had anything to with starting the fire. I can’t, because (A) They are all good, decent people, and (B) There is only minimal physical evidence pointing to them.

Because I married into this mob of misfits, I get to hang back and watch the weekend proceedings with cool detachment while enjoying the remote mountain surroundings. According to the ranch’s website, “you may wake up to the soft, gentle sound of elk bugling in the distance.” You may. Then again, you may wake up to the sound of a 19-month-old girl screaming her head off. I know I did.

Which is why I’m tempted to start drinking early. The ranch, however, is a Christian resort, and alcohol is not allowed. So I brought beer instead. But even that runs out the first night, which means I have to spend the rest of the weekend sober. I’ve never spent any time with my in-laws while sober. Has anyone?

It turns out it is actually OK. You can learn new things about people when you’re sober. For example, my wife’s second cousin, Tracy, is actually a woman. I learn several other things over the next few days while talking to (true story), the following people:

• A teenager who listens to his iPod the entire weekend, taking his headphones off only to brag to me about how he once got five bumblebees to land on his hand all at once.

• A man whose hobby is collecting spoons. Not the souvenir kind of spoons found at touristy gift shops, but plastic disposable spoons.

• A woman, say mid-50s, who used to catch gophers with her hand and take them to school, until the teacher told her to stop.

So you can see how I was missing my beer. Soon, however, the reunion ended, and everyone returned home — back to their lives, their jobs, their weekly urinalysis tests.

On our drive home, Marie and I pass by the enormous billowing cloud of smoke from the Fourmile fire. The fire will go on to burn over 6,000 acres, destroy nearly 200 homes and cost over $6 million to contain. As of this writing, investigators can’t identify the parties responsible for starting it.

Thank God.

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E-mail Steve Beauregard at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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