By Jamie Balke, Explorebigsky.com Columnist

Last week I attended an extended family reunion in Illinois that my father hosted. The consonant-loaded, über-German name of the family begins with a Pf. This portion of my extended family is very kind, but I don’t know them very well. As a result, I felt a bit like an observer in the midst of a chaos ruled by decades-old relationships and arguments.

My brother and I traveled to the reunion together, which was held at a resort on Lake Michigan. This beautiful, gigantic lake is one thing I miss most about my home state, and almost immediately upon arriving at the hotel my brother and I bee lined toward the beach. We reverted to games we played as kids, trying to see who could swim the farthest underwater and generally making fools of ourselves.

That evening we ate a late dinner on the hotel’s second story porch and watched a nearly full, glowing tangerine moon rise over the lake.

The second day we convinced our parents to go for a dip. A few other family members followed along, including an adorable baby cousin who hadn’t ever been swimming before and seemed to hate it with a fiery passion. A “wacky” cousin of my father also made her way to the beach and very thoughtfully attempted to record the family swim session with her digital camera. Being preoccupied with filming, she couldn’t be bothered to attend to details such as her dress that had somehow blown up farther than I can relate in a family-friendly publication.

On the third day, I reluctantly participated in the traditional family horseshoe competition. The first round found me and a cousin pitted against my mom and brother. My mom alternated between aggressive and blatant cheating, and loudly declaring that the game was over before the agreed-upon point minimum was reached. I’m pretty sure my brother was trying to throw the game. My mom called the game long before the moderator agreed it was over, and clearly both teams should have been disqualified.

Inexplicably, my cousin and I were declared the winner of that rather interesting round, and were given a buy to the semi-finals. Advanced to a degree far beyond our skill level, we were promptly creamed by two of the older female cousins, both of whom had been enjoying undisclosed beverages in red plastic cups for the majority of the day. One of them accessorized with a cigarette casually dangling from the side of her mouth and sunglasses festooned with skulls. They pretty much used us to wipe the floor.

It was about that time that a childhood friend of my brother drove up to the resort, because apparently, he enjoys a good awkward situation. After he was wrangled into photography duties by a well-intentioned family member, we made a temporary escape to one of our favorite restaurants, Captain Mike’s.

One of the best things about this joint is the names on the menu. For example, being a vegetarian, I enjoyed the “green bastard” burger. Omnivores had a wide range of options including the “liquor and whores” or the “never trust a man with no shirt on” burger. The food is excellent, and the drink list will blow your mind.

Thus fortified, my mom drove us back to the reunion, where we dove head-on back into the pfamily pfun. My uncle had hired a great band, and in a strange twist, another family reunion that was going on at the hotel spilled out onto the patio and danced their way into ours. It felt sort of like a cheesy movie, in a good way.

In retrospect, I’m glad I had that opportunity to spend time with my family. I enjoyed swimming in the lake of my childhood, getting slaughtered in yard games by inebriated women at least twice my age, and watching the chaos unfold.

Jamie Balke moved to Bozeman in the fall of 2009. She can generally be found behind the cover of a book, meandering down a trail or desperately trying not to kill houseplants.