Packed Like Sardines in A Tin

In just a few days, I go to Tahoe for my family’s annual vacation and I just can’t wait. I spend much of the year looking forward to Tahoe the way some people look forward to Christmas. How often do you get a chance to vacation somewhere beautiful with people you adore?

Tahoe is a true vacation. The goal of each day is to do as little as possible. There are no museums to visit or sights to see. We just eat, read, swim, play cards, watch the sunset, rinse and repeat.

The challenge at Tahoe is sharing space with 20 people since we cram as much of our ever-expanding family into one giant cabin. Cabin really isn’t the right word for the place, since it’s not at all rustic. Cabin also implies a smaller place and this one is massive. Initially built as a duplex, it has five bedrooms, five bathrooms, assorted sleeping alcoves, and two living rooms.

But even though there’s plenty of room for our big group, it’s still odd to go from living with the quiet Mr. WholeHog to living with a pack of my very loud relatives. And it’s strange to live with my parents again, and also my aunts, uncles, cousins, and now, increasingly, cousin’s kids. It is, as my grandfather used to say, an unusual combination.

We may be family, but we don’t all live the same way. We don’t have the same schedules. Some of us sleep in until noon (Brendan), while others (Mary Jo) get up early and, inexplicably, shuffle cards.

We eat different things as the extra-crowded fridge attests (low-fat milk and soy milk, pasture-raised meats and Oscar Meyer bologna). We have different ideas of what is clean and what is dirty, what should be recycled and what should be thrown away, what is too noisy and what is just right.

Even in the extra-large cabin, we get in each others’ way, especially in the kitchen where if you open the fridge, whoever is at the sink is stuck in the kitchen, and whoever wants to get to the garbage, say, has to wait. There’s also never enough hot water for all the showers, so we learn to brace ourselves for the shock of cold water in the shower, as someone else siphons off the hot water.

But mostly, living together is what makes Tahoe so fun. Everyone wanders down to the breakfast table when they wake up and we spend hours there, visiting with each new arrival and trading sections of the newspaper, while someone inevitably burns the toast. Often, we’re still at the breakfast table when lunch time rolls around, playing cards or deep in conversation.

Every night, after dinner, we all head down to the beach to watch the sun set behind the mountains and take our yearly family picture. From the picture, you can’t tell who had the cold shower, or who was woken up by the sound of shuffling cards. Instead, it just looks like a happy, if unusual, combination.

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