Personal Journey: A yearly weekend together bonds siblings

Resting in their snowshoes on a trip to Steamboat Mountain, Colo. (from left): Adelaide Ferguson, Louise Ferguson, Jean Pedersen, and John Ferguson.
Resting in their snowshoes on a trip to Steamboat Mountain, Colo. (from left): Adelaide Ferguson, Louise Ferguson, Jean Pedersen, and John Ferguson.
Posted: May 08, 2011

As a young widow, my mother, Joan Henry Ferguson, turned to her love of the outdoors to entertain her four young children. We grew up on family bike rides, tennis, water sports, and downhill skiing.

In her later years, Mom and her four adult children would reconstitute our nuclear family for one weekend each year, going off together for some mini-adventure. We "kids" thought of these family excursions as one way to show our gratitude to Mom. What we could not have foreseen was how these trips could so enrich all our lives long after her death.

Since Mom died in 2000, we three girls and one boy - now ages 65 to 58 and scattered from Connecticut to California - have continued to meet once each year.

We have clumped up Steamboat Mountain in Colorado on snowshoes (wondering why we didn't ski down like everyone else), sailed to Block Island, R.I., on John's boat, gotten lost hiking in Pennsylvania's Endless Mountains, run a road race as a team, and biked 50 miles round trip from my Rittenhouse Square home to Valley Forge.

Next year, it is John's turn to plan the trip - kayaking off Siesta Key, Fla., where I am hoping we will encounter manatees.

Over time, we have developed a template for our excursions. It is just the kids - no spouses, children, or grandchildren allowed. We rotate responsibility for planning - it must be inexpensive.

We meet on a Friday night for dinner. Saturday is filled by some athletic adventure. Happily tired, we review the highlights and high jinks over a leisurely dinner, often embellishing our escapades. John likes us to choose the most memorable moments for his diary. Sunday, after breakfast, we say goodbye and return to our lives.

We look forward to bringing each other up to date on the past year. On Saturday morning, each person has the floor - uninterrupted - for at least 10 minutes. We hear updates on careers, hobbies, children and grandchildren, sharing our triumphs, adventures, losses, and musings about life. Each speaker is rewarded with raucous cheering and clapping.

We fall into predictable roles.

Louise, the second child, always urges us to plan strenuous trips, yet she arrives equipment-challenged. She is inevitably rescued by Jean, the youngest, who comes with more equipment than she could possibly use, and trail mix to boot, claiming she will never be equal to the challenge at hand (false every time).

John is the genial, encouraging big brother of our youth. I am the taskmaster, insisting that we set a date far ahead, that we stick to our plan, and especially that we don't forget to take the time to share our past year. Louise is the photojournalist.

Spending three days a year with my high-spirited siblings has created an intimacy and familiarity that has closed the gap created by busy lives and physical distance. We compare perspectives on our shared history, relive old times, and create new memories. We have increasingly become part of one another's extended lives and support networks and are closer than ever.

Sometime near the end of each trip, the talk invariably turns to our Mom, and once again we recognize we are lucky to have had a fun-loving mother who taught us how to enjoy one another through these outdoor mini-adventures.

We know she would be thrilled.

Adelaide Ferguson lives in Rittenhouse Square.

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