This weekend my family is converging on New York City for the 75th anniversary of the Mary Angel Family Circle. Or maybe it's the 74th anniversary. The exact date has been the topic of some discussion, and as with all things family, there has been some debate about it. Whichever it is, there will be four generations in attendance representative of no fewer than ten different states in the union.
That we still call ourselves a family "circle" is a byproduct of the era in which it all began -- the 1930s. And like the story of many other Americans who immigrated to the United States, my family came to these shores to flee the religious persecution of Eastern Europe and to seek a better life for their children.
My great grandparents, Mary and Morris Angel (anglicized names to be sure), raised their seven sons and daughters with a belief in shared sacrifice as well as shared celebration. Nothing was more important than "the family," and when my great-grandmother, Mary, died, Morris gathered those seven children and began this official "family circle" in Mary's memory for the sake of maintaining a close-knit group and fostering continuity that he never could have foreseen at the time of its inception.
We who gather this weekend are the descendants of those seven brothers and sisters, and we will number more than seventy. Of the original seven, not all of them went to or graduated from college, but I dare say there are few, if any, of my generation and beyond who haven't gone to or graduated college. This dream of Morris Angel's has produced doctors and lawyers, actors and architects, police officers and teachers. We are writers, musicians, engineers, and photographers. We've served in the armed forces and work at the United Nations. And yet, that is not the thing that sets us apart from any other family.
What sets us apart, at least in my opinion, is the fact that we still find value in continuing our now once a year family circle meetings. What is distinctly American is that we are defined not only by what we make of ourselves in the modern world, but by where we came from. Most of our lives would never intersect were it not for these yearly reunions.
When the family circle started, everyone lived in New York, so the meetings were frequent and a mere subway or bus ride away. And when I say "meetings," I mean there were actual meetings with minutes taken and decisions made by a majority vote. Of course, the only piece of real business ever discussed to my recollection was the family cemetery plot. But then there was "old business" and "new business," during which time both the concerns and accomplishments of individual family members were shared. This was usually the cue for the children who had spent most of their time concocting some form of entertainment, to get ready. Show time was approaching.
By the time of everyone's departure, we knew the whereabouts and date of the next meeting. And if there's one thing that I attribute our current continuity to, it is that attendance was never optional. There was no choice involved when it came to showing up.
So here we are, bringing it back to its point of origin where there's a clear view of Lady Liberty and the boundless opportunities she has bestowed upon my family. We will no doubt discuss what's new and reminisce about bygone days and people. We will leave knowing where and approximately when we will meet next.
As for our big 75th anniversary, it turns out, after doing a little research, (a.k.a. calling my cousin Lynn), that the first meeting actually took place in 1938... making this our 74th anniversary, not our 75th. Oh well. I won't tell if you won't.