The Fourth of July. Bolivar Peninsula. A tradition unlike any other.

In movies, you see it a lot. Families have reunions at some picturesque location where everyone seems to be smiling and getting along. Even the more unsavory family members have big smiles slapped across their faces and the conversation is rich between them and others. It seems too good to be true.

In my 27 years on planet Earth, I’ve missed the yearly Cunningham reunion on Bolivar Peninsula twice. The first time, in the summer of 2007, work interfered. The second time was last year when my wife and I were on our honeymoon in Puerto Rico. Ever since our flight touched back down at DFW International Airport, I was already excitedly anticipating the 2013 edition of the reunion where I could bring my glowing bride along with me.

Jessica (that’s my wife) has reunions that are equally big on her side with her dad’s family in West Texas. We went there last Christmas and I was baptized into the Sneed traditions of nertz and other board games along with a tasty dish called a “tur-duck-in.” Being the literal-minded woman that she is, Jessica laid out the expectations for the reunion and calmed the fears I was having of meeting her extended family for the first time.

If you know me, I’m quite the opposite. I am overly excitable, to a fault at times. My language is in the dramatic realm and I wear just about every emotion I am feeling on my sleeve. Natually, I described the Fourth of July gathering in epic terms, listing off the normal traditions, foods, beach games and the newly-established tradition of bruising basketball contests.

As we got closer to leaving, I feared I had overplayed my hand. I considered, “Well, Jessica has been married to me for a year, now. She knows to take some of what I say with a grain of salt.”

We were blessed enough to get to stay from Tuesday through early Saturday morning. Even when I lived alone, I hadn’t been fortunate enough to stay that long in years.

After a five-hour trek from Lewisville to Bolivar Peninsula, we unloaded and headed to the beach to join the rest of my family. Needless to say, everyone was thrilled we had made it and were very happy we were getting to stay so long.

My family plans themed parties for the actual 4th of July and sometimes for the day prior or after the fireworks. This year’s theme was a photo scavenger hunt. Different families were divided into teams and had to photograph their members doing different things ranging from being buried in a pile of sand to giving a hug to a complete stranger on the beach.

After all the photos were taken, the different teams voted on the assortment of photos compiled by the other teams … and winners were awarded prizes (handed out by my adorable three-year old nephew, Ethan … who asked “What can I get you?”)

These are just a few of the things that went on. Jessica and I enjoyed them thoroughly. On Friday afternoon, we managed to round up six people for a final game of 3-on-3 basketball as per our new tradition at a covered pavilion court about nine piles east on Highway 87.

The games are played to 10 (each basket is one point) and you must win two out of three games. If there is anything where my tendency to embellish has a worrying effect on my wife, it would be here regarding the physical nature of play in the Cunningham clan. My dad and I can specifically attest to this.

By the end of Game 2, I had already taken an elbow to the teeth and my brother-in-law, Reed, had a bloody knee from the concrete. Dad had fallen down in the grass next to the court. He received a round of applause from my other brother-in-law, Jeremy, about dodging the court in the midst of the fall.

I played pretty well and hit some open jump shots and had a layup on a few drives. I knocked a few passes down, as well. It’s worth noting (and I can say this in a self-deprecating way) that if there are any injuries in our games, they are usually either my fault or I suffer them.

Several years ago, my cousin Michael had a wide-open layup after a fast break. Conventional wisdom would’ve suggested just letting him score. But, I threw my arm out in a last gasp attempt at a block and came crashing down on the bridge of his nose instead. Blood was spilled.

Also, on another occasion, my cousin Douglas and I got our legs tangled up chasing a loose ball. We both crashed to the concrete. He suffered scrapes on his legs while I landed square on my hip bone and had a bruise which I felt for the next two months.

The 2013 edition of Cunningham hoops ended in similar fashion. Seeing as Jeremy (6’3, 220 pounds) matches up the best with my dad (6’1, 230 pounds), Jeremy had the unenviable task of guarding my dad for all of the games played. Even at 55, my dad still routinely takes us to school with his combination of low-post moves, a silky smooth fadeaway shot and an uncanny knock to suffer the harshest of hack fouls (which results in his team regaining possession of the ball.)

On this particular possession, Jeremy and I got switched up on defensive assignments. My dad asked for the ball and he proceeded to try to gain position on me. I was playing overly aggressive on defense and was right up behind my dad when he gave a head fake where the back of his skull slammed into my mouth.

I’ve been bopped in the nose/mouth a few times and had the “Am I bleeding?!” thought when there turned out to be no damage. In the seconds following this particular impact, the thought was more along the lines of “Will this EVER stop bleeding?”

I stood there and dripped blood on to my hands and the court for a few minutes while my dad helped me rinse out the blood from my mouth. Shortly thereafter, I rode home with Douglas, who had had his fill of hoops for this summer.

Here we are two days removed from that and the swelling has mostly subsided. The vacation was amazing and there was a bit of sadness as we drove off early Saturday morning, leaving behind the waving and sleepy figures of my dad, mom and Grandmother. We’re already looking forward to next year and I think I can say that, from my wife’s perspective, I didn’t overstate how fun the Cunningham Bolivar reunion is and hopefully always will be.Image