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Berkshire Family Historian
December 1999

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Family reunions

Chris Relf

The International Relf Society held their 9th annual meeting and reunion on 11th September at the village hall in Great Shefford, Berkshire. Some 25 members and relatives were present and the hall walls were covered by Relf/Relph family trees, photographs and other family memorabilia. The day turned out to be sunny and warm so the amble down to the Swan Inn on the river Lambourn for lunch was a leisurely one. Much exchanging of family news and connections was evident and it was good to see how well members mingled and a special welcome shown to those from Canada who had made the trip. After lunch we were given a talk on Relf army ancestry by Mark Relf from Cheshire who had brought along a marvellous collection of medals and documents he had amassed.

Then followed a talk by the Chairman, Graham Archard from Somerset, and another member, Ruth Hewlett from Reading on the Relf cricketers from Sussex. The most famous, Albert Edward Relf was in the first MCC tour of Australia in 1903-4. As well as playing for Sussex he also played for Norfolk, Suffolk, Ireland, Kent, and Berkshire. He was cricket coach at Wellington College for some time, and his father, John Relf, who lived at 95 Kensington Road, Reading pre-1921, also had cricketing connections with Berkshire. In spite of their Sussex birth there was another migration of this Relf family - Ruth Hewlett's grandfather, George Frederick Relf, brother of Albert Edward Relf, married a Berkshire girl, Alice Minnie Smith, in June 1898 at St. Mary's Church, Reading. We learnt about other Relf Berkshire connections that all belonged to the same family and have their roots firmly planted in Burwash and Brightling in Sussex.

The afternoon concluded with tea and cake provided by our hosts for the day, Cyril and Shelagh Relf of Great Shefford. The 10th anniversary for the International Relf Society will be held on September 9th, 20 at Ashburnham in Sussex where William Relfe purchased the Lordship of the Manor of Ashburnham in 1637 - but that's another story.

Not all family reunions run as smoothly as the Relf's as Cheralynn (Charlee) Wilson explains.

It's summer, which means family reunions. Every other year, we have a reunion for my parents' descendants. My folks live in what was a "shelter over a picnic table" in New Mexico's Jemez mountains. It's grown to a 3-story permanent residence and has slept more than 50 people, 18 dogs, and a cat in a single weekend. This is where we congregate.

Our reunions are not dull. The first one (1994) was so exciting we almost decided to cancel further reunions, believing, or perhaps hoping, we'd never top it. Among the memorable events was the abseiling incident in which my eldest daughter caught her hair in a carabiner, and was suspended mid-way down a cliff. My brother, the ex-Marine, went down on a safety rope to free her. To do this, he required "The One Who Doesn't Hug" to entwine her legs and arms around his body. He planned to lift her enough to free her hair, but in doing so, managed to slip and get his T-shirt caught in his carabiner. Now they were both caught, and to make matters worse, his rope had slipped snugly around the tenderest part of his anatomy. To free his T-shirt, he opened his pocketknife with his teeth and began sawing away at the material that was about two inches away from my daughter's face. Cut free, the added weight dropped them further, painfully tightening the noose on his nether regions. The sensation caused him to drop his open knife that fell point down into the ground, narrowly missing a nephew. At this point, my sister-in-law, who was filming the whole thing, ran out of tape, so we missed seeing how brother and daughter got out of the mess. Brother sang soprano for a few hours. A nearby rock-climbing class witnessed the proceedings open-mouthed. Some of them quit the class.

That night, after getting hordes of offspring to bed in tents, cars, lofts, etc., the adults settled down for a cup of hot chocolate. It began to rain - a real frog-strangler, complete with sound and fury. Lightning struck, rattling windows. I yelled and grabbed a passing teenager, causing her to throw hot chocolate on several relatives who yelled and stampeded. Lights flickered. Another bolt hit with a loud crackle-boom. The lights went out. Mojo (our St. Bernard/Great Pyrenees puppy) went cracker-dog, yelping and running hysterically over and under furniture, triggering a round of the "Howlelujah Chorus" from the other dogs, whose owners began to shout and chase their dogs, stomping on people and critters and waking the children in the loft who began to scream because the lights were off. The tent and car people ran inside, wet and shaking. I crawled under a bed with one of the Siberian Huskies. Next morning, we found that a huge pine tree next to the cabin had been hit, exploding bark in all directions. To commemorate the occasion, the ex-Marine carved the date and event into a piece of the bark. It hangs in the family room today.

During outdoor church services, one Siberian Husky found a porcupine, which goes to show what happens to dogs who don't attend church. What a mess! My husband, who had found a semi-legitimate excuse to miss this reunion, got to share in the last part when we drove into town and picked him up on the way to the vet. When he heard about all the fun he'd missed, he got tears in his eyes, and we could tell he was sorry.

Reunions are a lot of work, both for those planning and those attending. The ultimate test of family endurance happens when mother's clan camps for four days in southern Colorado. There are more than 250 of us, not counting dogs and friends. It is not my idea of fun to pack everything we own and sleep in a tent with wet, cowering dogs inside and vicious wild animals and sneaky teenaged relatives outside. I do not enjoy port-a-potties, especially by the fourth day when the preschool boys in camp have figured out that the basin on the side is not for washing hands, and consider it a matter of honour to use it as it was intended. I am not fond of cooking on a Coleman stove, although, in the mountains, people expect all meals to taste basically the same - burned or raw. I do not relish being hit with five gallons of water travelling at 30 miles per hour in the traditional water fight, although my sons-in-law tell me this is their favourite part. It's the only time they may abuse me with impunity. I do not like the 3 a.m. hike to the outhouse because I can't resist the bedtime Peppermint Patty (hot chocolate made with peppermint tea). It either rains, or it is dry and the talcum powder dust coats everything. So, why do I go? Maybe it's because I love to see all the little kids call each other "Cousin" - they never bother to learn names. Maybe it's because we have kids with every shade of skin and hair, and two hours after we arrive, they're all the same colour - dust or mud. Maybe it's the demonic giggle from a five-year-old throwing a cup of water on his Nanny during the water fight, knowing this is the only time he'll ever get away with it. Maybe it's the clusters of teenagers plotting to put oral anaesthetic in someone's toothpaste.

Maybe it's the family church session or the visits around the campfire when we hear new jokes and old ghost stories. But, mostly, it's the magic it works on kids. In these troubled days, when families are crumbling, reunions give our children security in belonging. Whether they achieve great things, whether they are "just folks," or rotten as year-old eggs, they know that they are loved unconditionally. My kids don't want to miss a reunion and that's pretty impressive.

Previously published by Julia M. Case and Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG, Missing Links: RootsWeb's Genealogy Journal, VOI. 4, No. 32, 4 August 1999. RootsWeb: <>

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