The problem with being away from this space so long is that it's impossible to catch up on everything. I'll just say that our family reunion at a place called Chillin in Jamaica was fantastic. The layout was perfect, 4-bedroom villas and 2-bedroom apartments, all with lovely breeze swept porches, arranged around a central grassy courtyard and pool area, with the beach steps away. And there were enough of us that we had the entire property to ourselves for four days. A few families arrived a day or so before and a few stayed a couple of days longer, but the main reunion dates were Wednesday to Sunday, July 20-24.
Each villa and apartment had a chef/housekeeper assigned to it, who shopped for and cooked whatever you desired for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Our chef, Sandra, was amazing. The first morning, she helped us come up with a menu of meals for our time there. We all wanted the Jamaican dishes we were raised on, so that breakfast was usually ackee and saltfish or codfish fritters, with festival or johnny cakes or bamis, breadfruit, plantains, jerk bacon, scrambled eggs (for my niece's bf who doesn't have the taste for ackee), and always a huge platter of sliced local fruit including mangoes, watermelon, bananas, cantaloupe, honey dew melon, oti-eati apple (correct name is otaheiti, which I didn't know till I just looked up how to spell this delectable fruit I grew up with) and paw paw. Lunch might be jerk chicken and rice and peas and salad, or oxtail and plantain and yam, and, well, you get the picture. Then the chefs for each unit would cook some part of the evening meal, which was served buffet-style outdoors near the pool, with tables set out on the grass, all of us gathering from our day's activities to eat a meal in communion with one another.
After dinner there were domino and kalooki games around the pool, or in one of the living rooms with good fans. And there was night swimming too. All week we wandered in an out of each other's villas, played in the pool, or just reclined on each others porches talking, being, loving each other and loving being part of this family. The Stiebels. That was my mom's maiden name, passed down from the German Jew who came to Jamaica and married a woman of African descent several generations back, the given name of the nine siblings, only one of whom made it to our family reunion this year. The other two sisters who are still alive are too weak to travel, but Aunt Grace was there, a week before turning 90, radiant.
Of my mother's generation, in addition to Aunt Grace, my Aunt Ruth (who married my mom's brother Donald) and Uncle Eddie (a first cousin of the nine) also came. The rest of those gathered were their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, the youngest, adorable Leo, only eight months old. And this wasn't even the whole crew. Only about half our number were able to make it, the rest either too broke, or too stringently employed or too pregnant to be there that particular week. Yes, there will be three more babies born in our family this year, all three of them great grandchildren of Aunt Grace; three of her eight granddaughters are currently with child, promising yet another generation of closely bonded cousins.
During the days, we all went our different ways, some families joining together for outings, others heading off solo, still others staying put at Chillin, liming out by the pool or dozing in hammocks on porches. I could really go on and on about the week that was, but maybe I'll just put up an album of photos instead, and let that tell the story. If you follow me on Instagram or are friends with me on Facebook, you've already seen a lot of these photos, but as I also want to have the record here. And let me say, if anyone's looking for a vacation venue where each family has their own lovely unit (with air-conditioned bedrooms) yet ease of mingling and being together, not to mention world class chefs who are lovely yet somehow manage to be so unobtrusive, look no further than Chillin at Old Fort Bay just outside of Ocho Rios, Jamaica. It's a place of simple comforts and utter charm.
In a few days, I might have the wherewithal to whittle down the sheer number of pictures here, but for now, I can't choose. All the moments were precious. I want to hold them all.
Leaving New York
Doctor's Cave, Montego Bay, the beach of my childhood
Abbe and Notta chillin at Chillin
The villas were lovely
Berry brown girl
Rare full length of moi
Beach towels drying
Aunt Ruth sipping pumpkin soup
I still see their baby faces behind their grown-ness
Aunt Ruth and her firstborn, on his birthday
My cousin and his heart-stealing son Leo
Me and my girls
Uncle Jeff was everyone's favorite pool toy
Saturday eve, everyone wore reunion t-shirts
Oldest (Grace, 90) and youngest (Leo, 8 months)
The bottle challenge. Don't ask.
My daughter and "Little Beyonce"
This was only half of the group
On the front porch of our villa
Back in Kingston, we gathered to place Mom's ashes
Pepper shrimp at Hellshire Beach
My man at Hellshire
And as for the honeymoon photo of us in Dunn's River Falls that my darling husband wanted us to recreate, he decided we could do a perfectly lovely job of it using photoshop. I'm cool with that.