Hopping out of the car you carefully look left and right but make the fatal mistake of not checking the parking lot behind you. Attacking from the back is Auntie Lula, pinching your cheeks harder than at any previous get-together you remember. Next is Uncle Alex and his turn-your-hand-purple signature handshake followed by a hearty slap on the back.
This is how family reunions always are. We see relatives we miss and other relatives we wish we had only received a letter from. We have good times and bad times which include memorable activities. As teens, sometimes we love these priceless family adventures and other times we would rather crawl in a hole and come out when it's over.
Our Top of Utah teens give us the scoop on their thoughts about family reunions.
"I like going to (family reunions) because I get to see extended family members I don't see very often and do fun things with my family," says Madison Gamble, a Northridge High junior this fall.
An upcoming Layton High senior likes them for similar reasons. Alyssa Mertens says, "I like hanging out with my family, doing games and swimming and stuff."
Taylor Meyer, a Syracuse High junior, says he enjoys reunions because he gets to see all of his "funny cousins and (they) get to eat a lot."
However, not all teens enjoy family get-togethers. Dorthy Miller's family only has reunions occasionally and the future Northridge High senior says, "It's not all it's cracked up to be."
Emily Borgstorm, a recent graduate of Northridge High, likes the family reunion experience but mainly for a different reason.
"Everyone is trying to upstage everyone else's food, I'm just happy to get a free meal," she says.
What makes a family reunion great or not so fun?
Borgstorm says it's "the individual's attitude and how close you are to the family."
With her family, she says, "I'm closer with my mom's side and the cousins are around my age so we all get along great."
Kelton Johnston, a Syracuse High senior, says, "It depends on who is (at the reunion) because my mom's side of the family is kind of weird but my dad's side is fun."
"I think having more teenage cousins definitely makes a family reunion more bearable," says Jordan Anderson, a Davis High senior.
Mertens doesn't think that the particular family at the reunion makes a difference in how much enjoyment she gets at her regular camping reunions because, "We can have fun no matter what."
But she says the thing that affects the quality of a reunion is "people participating, because when people do their own thing it's not fun."
Tara VanKomen, a junior this fall at Northridge High, adds that attitudes and family are what a reunion depends on.
"No one likes a party pooper," she says.
Home sweet home
Family reunions take place anywhere the whole family can gather together, be it a fancy place or a regular backyard.
Mertens' family goes camping while other families might go to an amusement park, interactive exhibits or other public attractions, or just stay close to home.
Steven Timothy, a recent graduate from Syracuse High, normally goes to his grandparents' house for their family reunions.
"We usually all come to my house," Johnston says. "We have a big barbecue or something."
Meyer's family hold their yearly get-togethers at a familiar location where they ride horses.
"We usually (have our reunions) up in Huntsville because we have a lot of family that live up there," she says. "We have a cabin up there and family property. That's where the horses are."
Many teens have lots of memories about their past family reunions -- pleasant and not so pleasant.
"One reunion, when I was little, we had it in a church and they had no activities for young kids so it was pretty boring," Gamble says.
Timothy also remembers a dull reunion; "We went to visit extended family and I didn't know any of them so it was really boring," he says.
To have fun, or ...
Mertens remembers a reunion that she didn't like either -- "I got sick and slept the whole time."
However, she does remember good times, too.
"Every year we play Rummy when it gets dark, and eat treats," she says. "(It's special) because it's fun and I get to socialize with my aunts and uncles."
Borgstorm recalls one reunion she would probably rather forget: "It was winter ... I was nearly 10 ... we were having a Christmas party and Santa Claus actually came! Or so I thought. Santa was ruined for that year."
Meyer enjoyed the time his family created a water slide at their cabin.
"It was fun and crazy. ... We lay plastic down and used the irrigation pipes (for water). It was about 200 feet long. It was pretty fun."
VanKomen says, "My favorite one was when my mom's side went to Cherry Hill two years ago because we all got to bond a ton."
As we grow up and become the planners, some of us teens have already decided things that we will include in our future family reunions.
Borgstorm plans on "FOOD and sports." She adds, "It would be at a campsite so (we) could stay the night as well."
Gamble says, "I would include activities for each age group and activities for the whole family."
"I would have a coloring contest because even when I go to high school I see kids coloring in coloring books," Johnston says. "I would have fun if we had a coloring contest. I would totally beat everyone."
Others are a little more adventurous, like VanKomen, who says, "I would want to go white-water rafting!"
Michelle Thurgood will be a junior at Syracuse High School. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.