By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian
During the last week of June, without fail every year, four generations of Joe and Marie Elliott’s family gather for a time of fellowship, fun and family at Deep Creek Lake in Maryland.
It’s more than just some time off work. It’s more than a reunion.
“It’s a big pajama party,” said Mary Murray.
She and her five siblings (Randy, John and Rusty Elliott, Janie Antulov and Patricia Jenkins) and their families don’t even ask if this is going to happen. They just know.
And as long as they can find the needed nine-bedroom house, this is the perfect location: just far enough away to feel like a vacation and yet close enough that you can drive the hour or so back to Marion County if you need to.
“This isn’t the only time we’re together,” she said. “Every Sunday after church we meet at our parents’ house, and at Thanksgiving and Christmas. This keeps us all close.”
“Us” is the six siblings and their spouses, 17 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren ... even 99-year-old Aunt Stella ... and any other friends and family who drop by. There can be as many as 40 there over the week.
“Our parents used to go to the beach, but they don’t like to ride that long anymore. And some people couldn’t get the whole week off and couldn’t go.”
They’ve been doing this for the past 15 years, she added.
Finding a house big enough can be a challenge. They need at least two kitchens, two fridges and two dishwashers (“It takes a lot of cooking to feed 40 people,” she said with a laugh), those nine bedrooms and as much extra space as possible for extra sleeping bags, cots and air mattresses.
There’s always something to do, she said. Whether you like pontoon boating, Jet Skiing, arcades, golf, even a roller coaster or some quiet time just sitting on the dock talking and watching all the activity.
The people may change throughout the week, but some things are constant: hat day, cowboy day, movie night, seafood day, game day.
“Last year our mother was going through cancer treatment and her hair was thinning,” she said. “So we had hat day. Everybody wore a hat.”
At first, they just rented a house with a few bedrooms. But as the family grew, so did their need for elbow room.
“The whole family is together,” Murray said. “It’s a wonderful time. It’s important for all of us to be there for each other. It’s how we were raised.
“That’s what family is. We feel blessed.”
It takes a lot of planning — and food (about $3,000 worth) — to pull this off so smoothly year after year. Breakfast is a constant, lunch is usually sandwiches and if you don’t like what’s on the menu for supper, you can always eat out. That’s OK.
“Mostly we’re there to enjoy each other’s company,” she said. “Everybody looks forward to it.”
They’ve got packing down to an art, she said. The house looks beautiful when everybody drags in their suitcases.
“But the day we get ready to go home, it looks like a bomb went off until we clean it,” she said, laughing.
“Mom and Dad have been married for 61 years,” she added. “They instilled in us that family is extremely important. We’re carrying that tradition on with this.”
Sibling Janie Antulov agrees.
“Everybody comes from everywhere,” she said. “It’s the same time, so it’s easy. We just keep growing.
“It’s just a big pajama party. A lot of fun. Organized chaos. Wild fun.”
Despite the bountiful meals they have every day, it’s just being together that’s the best thing, she said.
“There are a lot of memories. It’s how we keep up.”
When they were little, the siblings would spend Sundays at their grandparents’ house, playing with their many cousins.
“That love of family was instilled in us.
“Every year we share with our parents is another blessing.”
All the cousins “hang together,” she said. “They’re like pods. There’s no entertaining anybody. It’s not a question of ‘if’ there’s something to do. It’s just deciding ‘what.’”
“I can’t wait for it,” added sister Patricia Jenkins. “It’s such a wonderful bonding. I love to watch the kids grow up, and the older ones taking care of the younger ones. It’s so warming.
“We all live such busy lives. It’s wonderful that, no matter what, we have this time for family.”
With all the things to do, her favorite time is “just sitting on the dock. There’s always somebody to talk to. People are coming and going. There’s always something going on.
“It’s an endearing time. And there’s always room for more.”
Email Debra Minor Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.