Every summer, since my great-great-grandfather died, my father’s family has had a family reunion. Dozens of people come from around the country, sometimes from other countries, for a potluck lunch and a chance to see one another. Many of the people you meet there are strangers, a few are people you know, and some are folks that you only see once each summer.
The format is familiar: each family brings food sufficient for themselves, then all the food goes on a long table for potluck. Each family also brings their plates, utensils, napkins, drinks, and whatever else they might need. My grandmother always packed her giant picnic basket, with food sufficient for her family plus a large bear, and all of the necessary tools.
One year, after the reunion, my grandmother unpacked her picnic basket and among her Tupperware, wicker plate holders and the old, scratched stainless flatware, she found a fork that didn’t belong. She couldn’t stand the thought of someone worrying about that fork, so she immediately called everyone she knew to ask if they were missing one. No one claimed it. At last she admitted that she had no choice but to take it back to the reunion next year to reunite it with it’s owner. She didn’t want to forget, so she kept that old fork on her dresser, front and center, where she would see it every day.
When the family gathered for Christmas at my grandparents house, someone spotted the fork on the dresser and Grandma was forced to tell the story. Tipsy with eggnog and punch, everyone, including my grandmother, had a good laugh at her expense. The best joke of all was when this very proper, grey-haired little lady swore that she hadn’t stolen that sad, old fork. She took quite a bit of teasing about it that day and for the next 6 months, while the fork remained in its place of honor on her dresser.
The next summer, as planned, Grandma packed up her giant picnic basket, carefully placing the stray fork among the Tupperware, and wicker plate holders and such. They got there early, as they usually did, and as each new family arrived Grandma would ask them if they had lost a fork last year. Of course, like Christmas, it became the popular joke of the day. People were laughing, and asking one another if they had lost a fork last year. Finally, late in the day, one of the relatives looked at the fork again and said, “you know, I think this is one of my old forks”. She tossed it into her picnic basket, and the year-long quest was over, the mystery solved.
Grandma had packed her giant picnic basket for the trip home, this time without any stray utensils, and was preparing to leave. As she went around the room and said her goodbyes, my father picked up a fork from a nearby table, and quietly slipped it into her basket.