"Family is our vernacular.."

At an event in Toronto in April, the brilliant Junot Diaz said, "Family is our vernacular." He said a lot of other quotable things, too, but that phrase stuck with me. And now that summer is hurrying to bunch us up with warm days before it ends, reunions small and large are happening everywhere. August weekends started with an extended family get together chez moi, three generations. The next week, the extended family of close friends, some of whom spilled over to my house. Last week a wedding. Just before the season turns, another wedding.

While they can sometimes be an oasis, others a swamp, families are nevertheless where we learn to talk in the first place, and family becomes perhaps the most common subject of conversations for the rest of our lives. Where are you from? What did your parents do? How many siblings? Are you the oldest? The youngest?

Over potato salad and beer, bar-b-qued salmon at one place, pulled pork at the next, older siblings reveal secrets to and about one another. Views shift to encompass new knowledge. Are we the same people we used to be when we were teenagers? Of course not, and yet... Individual identity is subsumed by the group identity for a day, a weekend or more of dutiful or sincere hugs. At a certain age, everyone learns to skirt potentially explosive issues. Politics? No. Body art? No, at least not when the younger set is present, as they are more and more, some already parents themselves, of those little ones jumping on the trampoline, swinging from the rope swing, putting on a play in a shed near the beach, where the unreliability of the makeshift scenery produces a tantrum that drives less patient family members of the audience to the pebbly beach from where the view is of cloudless sky and blue water.

Despite best intentions, promises made, some kind of explosion is bound to occur, and not only just among the kids. A relationship broke at one event. At another, a man proposed to his longtime partner and they were spontaneously married a day later, since the family was already there, in one place, which seldom happens these days, except in summer, when the common language is indeed family, and the dialects are as different as there are family groups, though that observation gives the lie to at least the first part of what another great writer, Leo Tolstoy, said: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."