ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

REUNITING WITH A GREAT-NIECE AND A GREAT NIECE

Her name is Katie, and she has stolen my heart.

Which is fine with my wife, Anita. In fact, she loves Katie too.

Katie is my niece. Well, OK, technically she's my great-niece but I don't like that "great-uncle" thing it makes me sound so darn . . . well, you know . . . old.

I haven't really had much of a relationship with Katie. In fact, I scarcely knew her. She is, after all, only 4 or 5 years old. And she is one of more than 100 great-nieces and nephews in the family. You can't tell one from the other without a program.

That's why it sort of surprised me when she started hanging around with me during our Walker family reunion last weekend. Not that she was a pest or anything. She wasn't really around that much. But every now and then I noticed a gentle arm around my leg, or a blond head leaning against my arm, and it would be Katie sitting there, standing there, smiling.

She never said much. Once she asked me if a shiny rock she had found was really gold as her older brother had suggested. I told her that I wasn't sure if it was gold or not, but I WAS sure that it was one of the prettiest rocks I had seen all day. She smiled that winsome smile of hers, and clutched her treasured rock all the tighter.

As we were finishing dinner on the first day of the reunion, I noticed that the brownies we had for dessert were going fast. Anita was just finishing her meal a couple of tables away, and I called out: "Save a brownie for me!" A few minutes later I noticed that little blond head at my elbow again. I looked down and saw Katie holding a brownie up to me with one little bite taken out of it smiling broadly enough for me to see bits of brownie between her teeth.

Now, I don't know if Katie took a bite of my brownie, or if she had given her brownie to me after taking only one bite of it. It didn't matter. She had given from her heart, and that made the brownie all the more delicious.

On the last day of the reunion, as Katie and her family were preparing to leave, she stood patiently as I made my way through her family, hugging and kissing each relative no matter how reluctant. When I finally came to Katie, she threw her arms around my neck and gave me the tightest squeeze I've had since I dated that gymnast in college.

"Bye, Uncle Dick!" she said. "I love you!"

Well, OK so maybe she got the wrong uncle. I DO look a lot like my brother, Dick (or does he look a lot like me? I'm not sure). The love I felt in that squeeze was genuine and sincere although I can't help but wonder if maybe she was hanging around with Dick when she wasn't hanging around with me, and didn't even know it.

As I watched Katie and her family leave the reunion, I couldn't help but think that this is why we go to all the trouble and expense of holding these occasional extended family gatherings. We reunite to renew the natural ties of a shared heritage, to refresh our commitment to one another, to reacquaint ourselves with the wonderful people to whom we are related and to remember what it means to be a family.

Oh, and we also reunite to lose our hearts to blond great-nieces we scarcely knew we had.

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--- © Joseph Walker

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Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com.