One hundred years ago my grandfather, Irish immigrant John Hogan, purchased a 100-acre horse farm an hour north of New York City. Today, six acres remain. On that secluded, wooded property, my parents spent their final years in a one-level red clapboard house they called “Reality.”
My sister Robin and her partner Shirley live there now. As my mother did for decades, they open home, heart and pool to John Hogan’s descendants every July for a three-day family reunion. No one is positive when the first reunion was held, so it’s always labeled the “umpteenth.”
Not one attendee is named Hogan, but we cling to our Irish heritage like foam on a glass of Guinness. Peat burns in the living room fireplace and green “Hogan Family Reunion” tee shirts dominate our less-than-Savile-Row sartorial selections.
Some family members drive in from Brooklyn, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Virginia and North Carolina. Even others fly in from California, Colorado and New Mexico. This year 41 “Hogans” (plus five dogs, two cats, and three complete strangers) joined the festivities.
My mother strongly believed in an Open Door policy — everyone was welcome in her home. My sister inherited that gene. When I arrived on Friday, the first “Hogans” I met were three hikers named Giggles, Scalawag and JuanGone, sitting on the back deck, taking a break from their trek along the Appalachian Trail.
“Who are these people?” I whispered to my sister. She answered, “We saw them at the train station when I went to pick up Ross. It was raining, so I offered them a ride to the trail head, but somehow they ended up here last night. I … uh … think… hope … they’re leaving later today.”
As more “Hogans” pulled in the driveway (and Scalawag’s crew left), we started sipping traditional (but no one knows why) Mint Juleps, devouring brother Robert’s world-renowned bruschetta, and divvying up cousin Alan’s complimentary pizza (10 boxes were ordered). Then, spirited games of Rummikub at a table near the roaring fire which scented the air with that reminiscent aroma of peat.
In Hogan-speak, the noun “bedroom” translates to “room in a bed.” Reality sleeps eight comfortably. Twenty needed pallets. The Pool Hall and four bedrooms filled up quickly, as did various couches. To handle the rest, the hostesses converted their two-car garage into a ladies’ dormitory.
Robin explained, “We bought a $100 rug from Walmart, laid out four double mattresses topped with lovely sheets, added curtains for privacy, Japanese lanterns for decoration, and voila — Hogan Hall!” It hinted of a sultan’s seraglio.
The big event on Saturday afternoon— after sausages on the grill, cannonballs in the pool, horseshoe and balloon tosses— is the family photo session. Traditionally, the elder generation sits in the front row, which over the years has come to be known as “death row.” Brother Robert whispered, “Look to your left, then to your right, and ask yourself: Who’s not gonna be here next year?!”
Not ONE of the younger generation will sit in the front row. “No way!” Our kitchen helper snapped 50 photos on various iPhones. When I look at the official photo today, I’m still not sure how the wheel-chair-bound 86-year-old Brazilian grandmother named Carmen who speaks only Portuguese is connected. A distant “Hogan,” no doubt.
The grand finale is the Saturday evening Talent Show, emceed by cousin Billy who could be a regular on SNL. One little cousin clad in a blue spangled skirt tap-danced soundlessly on the Oriental rug. Seven-year-old Shay sang “True Colors” accompanied by cousin David on guitar. Robert tooted “Danny Boy” on his trumpet. Another cousin’s wife did card tricks. Oh, and cousin Joe had his dog perform “roll overs.” All to resounding applause!
The show concluded with Ross reading his epic poem: “One Hundred Years of Hogan History … and Counting.” This verse captures it all:
We’ve horse-shoed and picnicked and swam in the pool;
Played softball, raced turtles and seen babies drool;
Gone golfing, saw slideshows, downed pizza and shrimp;
Visited gravesites, tossed balloons and never did scrimp.”
Emcee cousin Billy concluded, “Family reunions are about love and togetherness. When you’re with the Hogans, as Ross said in his poem, you’re never alone and you’re back where you began.”
Only 364 days until the next Hogan family reunion — but who’s counting?!?