Chapter 2

Meet the tresners.


Every family seems to have them. They go by last names such as “The Earls” or “The Blackwoods.” It’s that branch of the family tree that’s grown a little out of control. Perhaps they lack refinement. Or they’re obnoxious. They may be the inspiration for every blue joke imaginable. And chances are, that’s the type of joke they prefer.

At a typical family reunion, they’re often the outcasts that are a little rough around the edges. They’re not the type to greet new arrivals, but usually stick to themselves off in the back somewhere.

Except in my family. They pretty much are the entire family tree. And this tree has grown so wild and gnarled that it looks more like a petrified pile of knotted rocks. Even worse, the main trunk of the tree is so decayed that I’m convinced it’s infested with a colony of termites.

In my family, they go by the name of “The Tresners.”

Our roots don’t trace back to royalty or religious heroes. We are common stock. Workers. Miners. Janitors. Of course, that’s assuming that some of them are actually capable of holding down a steady job.

What we lack in sophistication, we make up for in numbers. Let me illustrate for a moment.

My grandma Tresner loves children. So naturally, she wanted a big family. A really big family. By the time she was done having children, she had been pregnant twenty-two times. That’s right, twenty two. Of those twenty-two pregnancies, twelve children were born into the Tresner family. At some point, it was probably unusual when she wasn’t pregnant.

The twelve Tresner offspring were named Pamela, Billy, Mark, Jon, Steve, Dave, Phillip, Paul, Lisa, Melanie, Michelle, and finally Meleda.

My mother Pamela was the firstborn. By the time she was having her own children, grandma wasn’t showing any signs of slowing down. At one point, they were both in the hospital at the same time giving birth to children.

So you can imagine, when your mom and grandma are nursing children at the same time, chances are, a few of those cute little bundles got mixed up. I certainly don’t remember it, but I’ve been told that I did indeed drink from my grandmother’s breast. I was told it was an emergency situation when Grammy was watching us kids and I was upset. But still.

While most of the world would call people in their family of the same age terms like “cousin,” I was calling kids younger than me “aunt” or “uncle.” Growing up, my aunt Michelle was a year older than me, and my aunt Meleda was a year younger. Because of our similar ages, we ended up hanging out a lot through grade school and high school. It was always fun to see my friend’s reactions of relief when they found out that my aunt who was joining us for a Saturday night movie was their same age.

In most families, the chances of getting a burnt pancake or two in the whole batch is normal. You know, the brother or aunt who goes off the deep end. But as luck seems to favor our Tresner stock, we were lucky to get one or two that weren’t completely crazy. Imagine that kid in your school who was always in trouble, or who would try some insane stunt just to get a laugh. Amateurs compared to my relatives.

They were the type of upstanding children who would seek to find more depth from everyday experiences. Take Disneyland, for example. They would climb out of their seats in the middle of the Alice in Wonderland ride, hide behind the Cheshire Cat, and then scare other people to death by jumping into a passing cart when others weren’t looking. They would spit from the PeopleMover. They would jump from car to car at Autotopia. And as you can imagine, they wouldn’t hesitate to stick their arms out of the ride at all times.

Once they even jumped the fence at the Haunted Mansion so they could take pictures of themselves lying down on the fake graves. When an upset Disney cast member scolded them for jumping the fence and told them to leave the ride, they kindly pointed out that there were no signs indicating that they couldn’t jump the fence at that particular spot. Because of the lack of signage, they continued to explain, it meant that the cast member had no jurisdiction on the matter. With confidence, they pushed past the dumbfounded cast member and continued on the ride.

Of course, they didn’t always get away with stunts like that, and needless to say, Grammy Tresner was on a first name basis with the head of security for the Magic Kingdom for many years. Ahhh, the endless thrills for the Tresner kids in sleepy Disneyland.

Another great pastime of the Tresner kids would be innocent little contests such as, “Who can steal the most expensive single item at the mall in the next hour—ready, set, go.”

As the Tresner kids grew older and left home, grandma missed having little ones around. But as luck would have it, (spoiler alert) several of my aunts and uncles ended up with illegitimate kids or were simply too immature to raise children themselves. So grandma ended up raising half a dozen grandchildren, too.

In fact, this love for children still hasn’t stopped. Just a year ago, when my grandparents were in their early 70’s, they decided it was time to adopt. They drove downtown, made an appointment to see an adoption agent, and tried to plead their case to adopt a baby. Never mind the fact that they’re both legally blind and really shouldn’t have driven downtown in the first place. Needless to say, the adoption agent said no.

Fortunately, one of their teenage grandkids fell “in love” with a girl, got her pregnant, and soon grandma was raising great grandchildren. The only problem is that a few of her own kids, and their kids, along with her kid’s kid’s new kid were still living in her home. In essence, she was raising children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren all at the same time.

As you can imagine, family get-togethers were crowded growing up. And now that all of the Tresners have kids of their own, in one form or another, things have mushroomed.

The beauty of it all is my family’s insane desire to make sure everyone is present at every extended family function. Not just the big gatherings like Christmas and Thanksgiving. We’re talking birthday celebrations, Sunday dinners, graduation ceremonies from kindergarten, and last but not least, coming out parties.

Just with the sheer number of cousins alone, there have been times when we have attended some important event twice a week—consistently for months. If I’m not careful I could easily attend a weekly Tresner gathering for the rest of my life. Naturally, you can imagine how much I guard my personal time—especially weekends.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike my family. As crazy as they are, they’re all I’ve got. And they can be very entertaining.

But having such a big and suffocating family, you eventually reach a breaking point. When my wife and I were first married, the constant jamborees were overwhelming. I finally snapped. I quit my job and we moved. Not just to a nearby city—we moved to a completely different state where we would have no ties to family without a long road trip or an airplane ride.

For five wonderful years, we experienced such amazing memories as an entire Saturday without any scheduled family event. Or a family Sunday dinner where the only people present were my wife and I. I will never forget the freedom I experienced during those years.

Eventually we had a few kids of our own. We would return to the homeland a few times a year so the kids could get to know their extended family. However, our kids were super shy around their relatives and it was awkward. My wife started to worry that our kids would be too isolated from their extended family and would never have a close connection.

I tried to explain that the only close connection we would get by moving back would be a pair of handcuffs.

Melissa disagreed. You see, she grew up in California, and most of her relatives lived in Utah. She only visited her grandparents and cousins once a year, something she always disliked. She finally moved to Utah in her late teenage years, but felt like it took years to build up the relationships. She regretted not having more frequent memories with her grandparents, aunts, and cousins. Now that we had our own children, she wasn’t about to make them live through the same unfortunate experience.

As you can imagine, my wife’s desire to connect our kids with our relatives prevailed. We eventually accepted a job back in Salt Lake City and returned to Utah. Funny how we moved to get away from family, and we moved back to get closer to family.

The one stipulation I required before moving back to the motherland was that I could say no to certain family events, in order to maintain a portion of my personal freedom.

The problem is that the Tresners figured out the loophole. They know it’s always better to avoid me and invite Melissa instead. It’s always an important event that we simply can’t miss. She’s too nice to say no, and we end up going.

Which is exactly why I now find myself somehow committed to spending a full week camping out with the Tresners. Losing a Saturday is one thing. But we’re talking 5 days.

Mostly, I feel sorry for the campground. Undoubtedly, it will never be the same.