On Friday, July 16th, after Marcus and Samantha had both been sailing for most of the day, we headed to the airport, braved the mostly closed restaurant outlets there, and flew in masks to Minnesota. I slung Helen while we picked up our rental car, a big black minivan, and then we drove north in search of the elusive White Castle suitcase of burgers. Though the first White Castle we went to had closed early due to a staff shortage, the second was open for the drive-through, which is on its own novel for our kids. A cardboard briefcase stuffed with 30 mini burgers, some "chicken rings," some cheese, some bacon, some fish? Sign them up! (Until they discovered the burgers had onions, that is--then Marcus stuck to the fish only.) Burgers in hand, with Helen devouring chicken rings in the back of the van, we went to the Vadnais Heights Marriott a number of cousins were staying in for the weekend
We were met in the lobby by a smiling horde of cousins, some of whom were staying at the hotel and others who were just hanging out there.
Somehow the suitcase of White Castles disappeared, and eventually we found our way to bed.
The next morning we were back in the lobby with the early rising crowd who hadn't stayed up the night before.
After the hotel breakfast, Dave and Jocie and Dan and I took the kids to the pool.
Dave left with Marcus to head to Target and Walmart to look for water guns, since he was worried the weekend wouldn't have quite enough fun in it, but Helen and Houston were thrilled to splash in the pool for another hour before we all went to Uncle Frank's.
At Uncle Frank's, the bigger cousins were busy setting up Aunt Nancy's highlight of the weekend--a 12' wide, 75' long slip and slide with three sprinklers on the grassy hill behind Uncle Frank's house.
Younger cousins got reaquainted--Marcus and Gavin (both 12, and just four months apart in age) and Samantha, Gracie, and Helen (9, 7, and 5) loved each other's company.
When the slide was open for business, nearly everyone took a turn, with Helen and Grace in particular logging about a dozen hours each over the course of the weekend.
Aunt Nancy also gave the kids fantastic arts and crafts goodie bags, and Samantha set up on the table underneath the back deck and got to work. Helen and Gracie and even Houston joined her for part of the time, and many things were painted and decorated in the shade down there.
Uncle Frank handed out the reunion tee shirts vigorously, and many people donned them immediately.
In the afternoon, Aunt Nancy organized a single-elimination doubles (partners picked at random out of a hat) cornhole tournament.
Robert, Marcus, and I were of course familiar with the concept of bean bag tosses but had never actually played cornhole with rules and points and teams, but we figured it out quickly enough. Mitch and I went down in the first round to Aunt Martha and Uncle Michael, but Marcus and "Little" Eddy (a spry 64-year-old) made it to the finals to play Robert and Jerry, who ended up taking home the winners' sun visors--and the $100 Visa gift cards. (Don't worry, second place got Yeti cups and $50 Starbucks cards.) The family seems to think Robert and Marcus could have a future in father-son competition.
Spectators were rapt during the final match--except for the toddler with the water gun, who would randomly shoot people.
In the evening was a hayride, of course.
This ride was a little bittersweet as the land behind Uncle Frank's house, which used to be part of a plot owned by his parents/Robert's grandparents, is about to be developed--there will be 40 new houses there, and a new road, within about a year, so the hayride won't be able to cut through up to the street.
Some people called it a night after the hayride, but everyone who was left collected fire wood, and we had a bonfire and roasted marshmallows. Candy had glow necklaces for the kids, and then Dave set off a huge fireworks display. And the mosquitoes feasted.
On Sunday, our crew slept late, while Robert went to church with his mother. Then we said hello to the great aunts in the hotel lobby for a bit, and then took Angelina and went to Hmong Village, the indoor shopping mall/supermarket/food court we like. We had bubble tea and mangonada and a whole fish, egg rolls, fish balls on sticks, meat balls on sticks, rice cakes shaped like roses, rice noodles stuffed with shredded pork and scallions, and a Hmong pho with more beef balls. From there we went back to Uncle Frank's for more cousin fun and water slide--and water balloons, today!
In the afternoon, Matt brought over his food truck--the Willy Wagon--and cooked burgers juicy-loosey style, with onion rings and fries and cheese curds to order. What a hit!
Jocie, Nancy, Candy, and I organized the kids into a water balloon pick-up squad, so Uncle Frank wouldn't have the remains of 500 water balloons scattered over his lawn for days to come. They all got into it, and loved the prize money at the end. Gavin helped Gracie and Marcus helped Helen, very sweetly.
Because one tractor per weekend isn't enough, Uncle Frank pulled out another one on Sunday for a short ride and some pictures.
We managed to rally 25 cousins (well, 23 cousins plus Uncle Michael and Aunt Nancy, and Jerry brought back ice cream for two others) to go for ice cream at the Cup and Cone in White Bear. "Not the Cup and Cone!" Gavin had moaned. "They always have such a long line!" Well, yes. And we made it a lot longer.
Brady drove the younger boy cousins in his car. Candy organized a (bigger) girl cousin photo. The line passed quickly enough, though the poor ice cream person who kept saying "Anything else?" when one more Slattery would slide in front of her and place their order might have been done for the evening after our party.
Jennifer, Gracie, Helen, and Samantha got on line first, and more and more cousins kept arriving and joining them. In any other state, we would have gotten a lot of dirty looks, never mind comments, or worse, but in Minnesota, people just smiled and chatted and offered to take pictures for us.
Robert treated out of his cornhole winnings, and ice cream for all came to (only!) $87.10. (Plus a very generous tip, Robert wants to note.) The ice creams were big, and so were the emotions. Gracie and Helen were each sobbing at the end of the evening, clinging to each other and not wanting to say goodbye. Even in the group picture they were holding hands.
Monday morning, another two dozen or so family members gathered at Perkins for breakfast. Samantha and Wyatt and Jerry discussed books, while Uncle Michael ran into people he knows (of course) and Helen drew a picture of the slip and slide and wrote a letter to Gracie for Uncle Michael to deliver later.
There was time to pack up the slip and slide, and play a little bit more ping pong, at Uncle Frank's before we had to head to the airport.
As always, the weekend was too short--but we'll be back! If there's no family wedding or graduate party or designated reunion next year, we'll be there for the state fair at the end of the summer, and we can't wait to let Helen and Gracie (and everyone else) pick back up where we left off. Meanwhile, take a look at Dave's weekend highlights reel for another overview (literally--he spliced in some drone footage) of the weekend.
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