By Fari Sylvester
My mother grew up without a lot of family traditions, so she and her four brother and four sisters decided to create a tradition of their own. In 2000, we took our first family trip with 45 people to Homer for the Memorial Weekend. My mom and her siblings grew up in Homer, so this wasn’t their first stroll down the Homer beach. My mom was excited to share their stories and reminisce about life growing up. Fast forward to 2017, and we have kept this tradition alive.
My brother Derrick has become the leader of the pack. There are 34 of us first-cousins and it’s a real challenge to get all of us together, and if for some reason you make other plans you can expect to hear about it for the next year. Our last night camping on the beach, we have a huge bonfire. Derrick takes pride in his bonfire building skills. Every year the fire seems to grow. This past year the framework, which is usually a teepee-style, stood about 7 feet tall. The building of the bonfire draws attention from campsites around. Campers would come up asking if we were the same family from previous years that had the biggest bonfire. Derrick always has the biggest grin when he replies, “Yes, that’s us!”
The part I love the most is sitting in my fancy camping chair, rocking back and forth under my warm blanket, with my nephew’s dog Summit sitting at my feet. The mountaintops in the background are still full of snow that glows in the setting sun. All boats big and small are coming back to the harbor from a long day of fishing. There are eagles soaring in the sky scoping out the day’s catch. There is calm about this moment that is peaceful, and everything that is running through your head comes to a halt. We’ve kept this tradition alive for a reason. My kids Kenneth and Aiyana, who are both 9 years old, are so excited to help gather all the wood and fill in the empty spaces of the bonfire as my brother is bent over, showing them the good spots. Derrick tells them someday this will be their job and us old people will just come and watch them light it, just like the great aunties and uncles come and watch us. This brings back memories of my uncles doing the same for us when we were kids on the many adventures they would take us on.
As our family is arriving one by one, we can hear the buzz from campsites around us as people return home from their adventures, sharing stories about the biggest fish and the monsters that got away. We pull out our cooking shack and get things going, cooking the freshest catch of the day. The kids gather their marshmallow sticks and all the supplies needed for the biggest s’more competition.
As the sun is finally setting, we are ready to light the fire. The men pour their fair share of gasoline and tell everyone to back way up. Derrick does the honor of lighting the fire stick and throwing it in. As the teepee becomes engulfed in flames, you can hear the gasps and giggles from others around, admiring Derrick’s work of art. Since there are no restrictions from parents on how many marshmallows are too many, the kids start filling their sticks one after the other, laughing about how burnt the ones the night before were. Bets are being made on who will have the most golden marshmallow, and when it ends up catching on fire and burning to a crisp, you can hear the kids say, “Well, I like my marshmallow better this way.” It’s funny to see my children peel off the burnt layer, ending up with sticky fingers, trying to pawn off the charcoal-looking marshmallows to my mom because she is the only one who actually enjoys them. Kenneth says, “Here, Grandma, I made one just the way you like it!”
As we gather around the fire, stories are shared of when my aunts and uncles were kids and the times they spent on this beach. My mom will point over to the bluffs, saying, “Aunt Bertha’s house was at the top of the bluff, and we would spend all day racing up and down it. It’s amazing that none of us broke any bones.” I’m excited that these will be moments that I will get to share with my grandkids, telling these stories as we are sitting on the Homer spit, camping for Memorial weekend.
I had fun reading your story. The one thing me and my family must do every year is camping and fishing. I think it is the very best when the family are all able to pull off a weekend to spend time together doing what we all love to do with hardly any rules at all. When everyone gets together we never want it to end, ever. I was reading your story and I could smell the campfire and it was like I was right there. I look forward to this every year and I am sure you and your family do as well. Happy camping and good luck fishing!!!