The informant was discussing several things her family does for family reunions, so I asked her to elaborate on the details.
“We do family reunions, and one of the traditions is we wear really horrible t-shirts that have our family crest on top. And they’re usually like a super garish yellow and they’re super ugly, and the back of it says, ‘memories build traditions,’ and during the reunions we usually play horseshoes and batchi and my grandpa makes ice cream… We used to hold them down by my grandparents’ house, and they live in southern Indiana on the Ohio river, and there was always a tree down, and so my grandpa would take slices of the tree, like he’d take cross sections of branches, and he’d write ‘[family last name] reunion whatever year,’ and then he’d write like a quote from the reunion, like something that happened and then he’d lacquer it and drill a hole on the top and he’d give it to everyone for Christmas.
We play batchi ball… batchi ball is like a giant rectangular area, locked off by a string, and then you toss a ball around and then you have a really little ball, and the goal is to get the little ball as close to the bigger ball as possible. It’s kind of hard to describe without showing. It’s like an Italian game, I think… it can be made of different materials. Ours is made of a kind of… I think it’s like a metal ball and it’s covered in plastic, and they’re about the size of two fists, and you.. there’s… like four different sets of colors and two teams will… choose a color and you can have up to four teams, I think. And then, um, you basically take turns… OH, no no, this is how it works: you toss this little white ball in the middle of the thing and you can toss it either really close or really far, and whenever you toss it you want to toss it to the furthest corner, because then the goal of the rest of the game is to toss the larger balls and get them as close to the small ball as possible… but if they go out of bounds, then it doesn’t count. So, if you put it in the side corner, then no one’s gonna be able to reach it. Because the heavier balls are heavier and hard to toss”
Family traditions, especially family reunions, are quite common. But as illustrated above by my informant, some families go to great extent to make sure those reunions are a big deal and memorable. Games seem to be a common theme of family reunions, but making t-shirts is probably less heard of.
Informant: “So the infamous family get together… so every year at the time of the fourth of July, the Forward family would hold a reunion back up at our cabin that is near Lassen in Manton, California. And that is an area that was homesteaded by our great-great-grandfather, who actually was at West Point when the Civil War broke out. And he decided that he couldn’t choose between the North and the South, so he packed up the wagon and headed out to California to avoid the whole Civil War. Any event, they settled in Oregon originally, and then they moved down to Northern California where Manton now is. And they eventually built a lumber company there, a saw mill. So uh, in any event that is where the family homestead is and we would go back every July 4th to the family homestead, and my grandfather and his brother, my uncle, would hold a big barbecue. And the way they would barbecue was that the meal was typically on Sunday, or whatever, but the day before you would dig a big pit and you would buy tri-tip and you would put it in burlap sacks. You would season the meat, put it in burlap sacks and wet it, and you built this pit. And the day before you would get some firewood, it had to be oak to get the right coals, and you would fill that pit with the coals and then would dig out the coals, throw in the meat that is in the wet burlap sacks and wrapped in the pit, and then you would throw dirt over those, and then throw the coals over that. So it is kind of like the Hawaiian pig roasts, they way they burry the pig. And then that cooks all night long and through the next morning. So part of the fun was digging the pit and keeping the fire going. And the men would stay up all night, until usually 1:00 in the morning when they would put the meat in. And they would drinking whiskey and tell stories. There were no women allowed, this was just a guys thing. So then, we would dig up the meat the next day that had been cooking for 8 hours and we had this beautiful tri-tip that had slow cooked for 8 hours in the earth. And then we would add some more seasoning, and that was the main meal for our big family reunion party every year. And the family reunion was always done at the cabin near the lower pond. We actually had built a little picnic area just for that one party, every year. The other fun thing we used to do is there is no refrigeration but there is a creek that runs right by the picnic area, so instead of having to bring ice or anything, the creek was cold enough with the water coming off Mt. Lassen. We put all the food that had to be cooled in the creek, so the kids would have to build a little rock dam, a little pool so that the stuff wouldn’t wash down the stream. And we put watermelon in there, and put all the beer and pop bottles there, all the stuff the water wouldn’t hurt. And that was their kind of fun thing that was the kid’s responsibility every year.”
“The Pig Roast” as it is called serves as a way for the family to reunite every year. The 4th of July was chosen for the reunion date for two reasons. One, getting to celebrate Independence day with family is a fun way for the family to reflect proudly on their American heritage. Another reason why the date was chosen was because it is a time of year that is easier for family members to travel back to Manton, because the children are out of school for the summer and July is not a busy month for farmers, and ranchers, which is the occupation of many family members. The pig roast is always held on Sunday of the 4th of July weekend, because Sunday is traditionally a day of rest and family time.
The special method of how the pig is cooked is also part of the reunion’s ritual. The pig is generally slaughtered from the family’s farm, and then it is prepared in a special method that has been repeated since the first Manton pig roast. The fact that only the men in the family are allowed to prepare the pig represents a strong patriarchal value in the family, which still holds true today. When a boy in the family is finally allowed to stay up late with the men and drink whiskey and share stories, this important event represents that the family has accepted the boy as a man. This initiation into adulthood is also the men’s way of saying to the boy that they are ready to give him more responsibilities as an adult.
The fact that every group in the family, the men, children, and women, all have a specific responsibilities for the preparation for the pig roast is tied to the family’s history of being primarily farmers and ranchers. Working on a farm or ranch requires a lot of hard work and responsibility so everyone has to do there part, including the children.
The Manton pig roast represents American traditions and values in that there is a strong emphasis on family, hard work, and independence, which is reflected in the origin story of the family homestead. This is because the idea that their great-great grandfather was a pioneer in the West represents the idea that in America if you work hard and have the determination to do so you can accomplish great things. This story is often used to inspire these ideas of success and independence in the family today.
My informant was born in 1957 Arcata, California to a high school basketball coach and his wife. After earning his undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of California, Davis, he moved to southern California to obtain his MBA in business from the University of Southern California. He now a partner at Ernst & Young. He lives in Manhattan Beach, CA with his wife and has two children.