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Every Sunday afternoon in Placentia, Calif., the Watson family gathers for Family Day.
Although informal — most every Watson comes either barefoot or wearing flip flops — it has its own set of rules and rituals.
According to Jennifer (Watson) Fiamengo, the rules mainly pertain to the food served. If they grill hamburgers or hot dogs, her mother MUST make her family-famous macaroni salad. If they have Mexican food, her mother MUST make seven-layer dip.
One of the rituals involves serving appetizers and watching sports on TV. Another one is 4-year-old Dylan Watson playing upstairs with Grandma Peggy.
The Watson Family Day tradition started when Jennifer’s brother, Shane, and his wife, Molly, had Dylan, their first child. Shane wanted to make sure that the Watsons saw Dylan as often as Molly’s family did, Jennifer said, and they’ve only missed a handful of weekly get-togethers since.
I was thinking about the Watson’s Family Day a few weeks ago at church. Actually, I was thinking about how odd church is. As I watched the pastor pace as he preached, I thought about how odd it is to come to a place every week and follow a set order and ritual and way of doing things, and that people do this and have done this for centuries.
My pastor grew up in church and has probably missed very few Sunday worship services. To not go would be abnormal for him. For some people, attending church is abnormal.
For Watsons, missing Family Day makes them unsettled, like something’s missing. They see each other during the week, but it’s the coming together on Sunday afternoons that gives them the sense of continuity and “Watsonness” that they need.
Jennifer said that non-Watsons are always welcome to come to Family Day, although they don’t have non-Watson regular attendees.
“Everyone is welcome and we love to take in people who are low on food or don’t have family around, and we treat them like family,” Jennifer said. “We almost always have a few strangers coming by, and that’s always fun. It makes us happy just like I assume it makes Jesus happy when strangers come into his church, even if it’s only every now and then.”
I asked Jennifer why Family Day is so important to her.
She said, “For me, I love to be with my family more than anything else in this world. I love to see my nephews and be a part of their lives and watch them grow up. I’m close to my brother, and although we talk on the phone during the week, it’s just a different connection to see him on Sunday and be with him and talk with him.”
She said she also loves to see her brother and her husband, Marc, hang out together and become “more and more like brothers every day,” and that Marc and Molly are increasingly becoming part of the family “just as if they were with us all along.”
Jennifer said Family Day is the best day of the week and it always ends with hugs and kisses and saying “I love you.” It’s their form of benediction.
Lest you think Watson Family Day, or the Watson family, is too good to be true, I know firsthand that they are not without their problems. I’ve attended a few Watson Family Days, being the sister of Grandma Peggy, and they can be quite boisterous.
And because Watsons are involved, Family Days often don’t go as planned. There are sometimes hurt feelings, stubbed toes and arguments. Sometimes things get broken. The youngest (and oldest) Watsons sometimes get cranky and need naps.
The Watsons, like any family, are working through generations of dysfunction. But they return to the townhouse in Placentia, Calif., week after week.
Currently, a Watson cousin is in a medically-induced coma after being hurt as a pedestrian by a hit and run driver. The Watsons are banding together, to pray and gather strength from one another for one another.
Someone once described church as “porcupines huddling together in the storm.” We don’t come together because we’re good or without deep flaws and serious character deficits and defects. We come with all our prickliness and need, huddling together, finding ways to get closer as we weather the storms of life.
Sometimes when I think that maybe church isn’t important, that maybe it’s an outdated or irrelevant concept, I remember that it’s not. Like Family Day at the Watsons, it’s vital and I need it.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.