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One new message

| Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Each summer in late July, the extended family on my dad’s side descends on one small lake in northern Minnesota. The fifth small lake in a row of small lakes, it bears a logical and wholly underwhelming name, “Lake 5.” My family has stayed here for 33 years and counting, and the scenery remains identical to this day — which, in a nutshell, sums up the enduring appeal of the place.

This past summer at Lake 5, however, marked a new and important step into the 21st century for our family: the creation of an extended family group chat.

The necessary conditions for the group chat had existed for a while — for instance, most of the cousins were now old enough to have cell phones, and my father had finally discovered how to turn on iMessages after eight years of owning an iPhone. On the Saturday that everyone drove to Lake 5 in their respective minivans, my aunt decided to text everyone at once to send updates on their travels. Thus, the group chat was born.

In the months following our vacation, the group chat has expanded and thrived. Do your relatives use Bitmojis? My uncle, grandma, and cousins all use Bitmojis, with an unbridled enthusiasm that would perhaps surprise the creators of Bitmoji themselves. Communication in the chat also includes a noteworthy amount of hashtags (mostly my Dad) and repeated use of the goat emoji (mostly my older cousin). It’s a hilarious intersection of diverse ages, personalities and lots of dad humor.

Yet more than providing a platform for sharing silly pictures or dorky texts, the chat links us, a family of diverse people scattered across the country from Washington to Maryland. Around the end of August, everyone sent first-day-of-school pictures in the chat. Last week, my cousin sent pictures from her new apartment. The whole family sent well-wishes for my grandparents’ anniversary. Adorable videos of our baby cousin from my aunt and uncle consistently bring down the house. When my little brother had appendicitis and went to the hospital, the chat blew up with advice, love and “get better soon” wishes.

At Lake 5, there’s a campfire spot close to the water where we’ll all sit together, talking and sharing among family, as the sun sets and smoke from the campfire curls up into the trees. When a new message pops up on my home screen, for a moment I inevitably think of the campfire — and of that warm, secure feeling that both the group chat and the campfire evoke within me. Like Lake 5 itself, that feeling — a deep, familial love — has endured throughout the years unchanged.


The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Nora McGreevy

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