Ruminations: Pulang Kampung
On August 27, 2018 | 0 Comments

The small town of Cazenovia, Wisconsin, where I was raised—population 318 according to the 2010 census—is more than a hop, skip, and jump away from the megacity of Jakarta—population of 30 million plus in the metropolitan area—where I have spent most of my adult life, but every year, if possible, and usually in the month of August at the time of the annual McGlynn-Schauf family reunion when my nine siblings and their spouses, children, and grandchildren gather together with numerous first and second cousins as well as their children and other kith and kin at Glynnspring, the family farm and compound (a word that came into English in the 17th century via the Dutch kampoeng from the Malay kampong or kampung), which was first settled by Thomas (“Roaring Tom”) and Bridget McGlynn in 1853, I, too, try to pulang kampung.

Though in Indonesia, at the time of the Idul Fitri holidays, when the cost of tickets for most any form of transportation rise exponentially, I shake my head and wonder why everyone has to pulang kampung at the same time—Why not go home another time of the year when they are fewer people on the road or after Idul Fitri when fares have returned to normal? Wouldn’t that make more sense, I scathingly ask staff members—the fact is, I do the same thing: shucking out far more cash than I would like to spend on an air ticket because it’s high season and a seller’s market.

The family reunion is held on the first Saturday of August but the core family, the ten siblings, try to arrive at Glynnspring by the previous
Wednesday at the latest in order to prepare for the inundation of family members and friends on the day of the reunion itself. Maureen, the lawyer and first in the line of siblings, takes care of buying sweet corn and other fresh produce from local farmers. Eileen, the librarian, prepares charts on where people will sleep and who will be in charge of meals during the week. Kathleen, the nurse, weeds the flower beds. Mary, the head of a management-development company, updates the extensive McGlynn- and Schauf- address lists and plans the entertainment section of the reunion. Jane, a former primary school teacher, cleans the house while I, the next in line, take care of cleaning the garage, basement, and woodshed. Mark, the engineer, mows the lawn and oversees the installation of a port-a-potty and tent. Colleen, the chef, sets up the grill for the outdoor cooking of brats, bacon, and other victuals. Christine, the other nurse, prunes bushes and trims around the buildings. As for Luke, the last in line who is head of personnel relations at a major corporation, he sets up a dispenser for beer and makes sure that enough other beverages and ice are on hand.

Preparation for the reunion is truly a gotong-royong operation where everyone is helping out, with a precision that has been fine-tuned over the decades. Somehow meals magically appear and piles of dirty dishes mysteriously disappear. Somehow, in the evenings, when it’s time to relax, everyone finds a time in which to bring the rest of the family up to date; and somehow, as darkness falls, everyone finds a place to sleep.

On the day of the reunion itself, relatives begin to arrive as early as 11 am but by noontime most everyone who will attend is present, each one
bringing along a dish to share. The core family has prepared all the main food items—sandwiches, grilled chicken, brats, cheesy potatoes, salads, and so on—but what with all the other culinary contributions the four long tables in the garage are piled high with enough food to ensure that none among the battalion of reunion participants could possibly go home hungry.

The hours of the day seem to go by both quickly and at slow motion but, near twilight, when relatives and guests have said their last “so long” (a phrase that purportedly derives from “salam,” the Arabic word for “peace,” which British soldiers serving in the Malay world heard as “sa-lang” and continued to use after their return to Britain but which was then further mashed into the current pronunciation by the civilian populace), the family is able to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

On Sunday, the following day, the break-down and clean-up begins but with numerous able-bodied nieces and nephews present, the work is completed in a matter of hours, after which most of the siblings and their families return to their respective homes in Madison, Eau Claire, Fort Atkinson, Black River Falls, Minneapolis, and elsewhere. Because it’s at most once a year that I am able to come “home,” a place that’s empty of permanent inhabitants now but, nonetheless, well tended and in good condition, I usually stay on for another day or two to visit Saint Bridget’s cemetery where my parents are buried and to sit one of the porches or out front of the house to bask in the silence of valley in which the farm is located and to rehash in my mind the many stories gathered during my brief time on the family farm.

Whenever it is that I pack my bags in preparation for my return to Jakarta, a pang of emotions overwhelms me. Yes, I have come back to the place where I was raised, one that I will love till my dying day, but now I am really going home, pulang kampung to Jakarta.

John H. McGlynn