Last weekend I took my maternal aunt to Iowa to that branch of my family’s annual reunion. I’ve not been there in about eight years. The last time I went I drove my mother there. That was her last reunion as she became ill shortly after that and died a few years ago.
I knew the day would bring back powerful memories for me.
I didn’t expect to learn so much more about family history. For example one of the first items that greeted me when I arrived was a whole wall, at least 25 feet in length covered with large sheets of paper about 3 feet wide. Some sections were 5 and 6 pages deep. This was the family genealogy. It went back to the early 1600’s and the two relatives are still digging and researching to go back further. Those of us there were to add in whatever pieces of information we had that wasn’t there.
I spent several minutes updating my mother’s section—which was the third page down from the top copy. 🙂
Five generations were represented at the gathering: ages 94 years to 3 months. My grandfather’s baby sister was the oldest. She’s 4 years older than my mother would be as my great-grandfather had a second wife and a second much younger family with her. The estimate was 170 attended, not counting the little ones who didn’t need plates for dinner.
The family resemblance through generations made it so easy for me to pick out blood relatives. Even better was seeing in a new generation a “replica” of deceased, much loved relatives.
Besides the interesting conversations and late night visits, my aunt took me around the two towns and pointed out where my grandparents and great-grandparents had been born and raised. She showed me the business college from where my grandmother graduated. We went to the new hospital which had a meditative courtyard area that featured a statue my great grandfather had donated to the original hospital in memory of his first wife. I drove along and over the railroad that my great-great-grandfather helped build and my great-great-grandmother journeyed along the trail as cook and laundress for the crew.
See potential story lines here?
We visited the cemetery and walked among my relatives while my aunt told me stories about them. Stories from her personal experiences and stories told to her by family members now buried in the ground we walked. One I hadn’t heard about was “Uncle Mike” whose granite marker told part of his story.
Uncle Mike came in steerage from Ireland, landed in Canada, and wanted to get to Iowa where he had a brother who was homesteading. This was in the late 1850’s. Before he got to Iowa, he landed in New Orleans (oral history here is unclear but I suspect the Acadian route used by many) just as the Civil War broke out. This Irish lad was conscripted into the Confederate Army, wore the gray uniform and was sent to the northern border states where he fought, was wounded, and taken prisoner by the Union Army.
Once he recovered and the Union forces heard his story, he was conscripted into the Union Army and served until the end of the war. Finally after serving on both sides of a war for a country not yet his, he was mustered out and found his way to Iowa and his family. He never left Iowa again.
I saw the gravestone commemorating my mother’s first cousin, a tail-gunner on a B-17 and part of Doolittle’s Raiders who bombed Tokyo during WWII. I read through the scrap book containing all the information the family has gathered about him. It contained the telegrams indicating he was missing in action, a few letters home from him prior to that mission that most knew they would return from. He didn’t.
And so many stories.
The trip was long. I drove 1,135 miles round trip between Friday morning and Sunday evening. But I learned so much. My mind whirled with ideas on the trip home. Not only about stories but about the beautiful farmland I’d seen and the incredible changes in farming methods I heard about.
But still the farm where the reunion was held had 4 horses. My grandfather loved horses but he used them for farming as well as riding. Now they are strictly for riding.
I think my mother was glad I made this trip. I believe she was with me in spirit as were my grandparents and uncle who are buried in that cemetery. I hope they believe I’m carrying on the best of our family traditions and beliefs. I felt them especially as I sat in the little church they worshipped at each week. Pew 17 was their family pew and I sat there during the service and looked around the church and though about how many memories and events they had experienced in that place: weddings, baptisms, funerals, anniversary celebrations, prayerful services in bad times, such as when the locusts killed all the crops one year or the tornado tore a path through fields just before harvesting, or drought ruined a year’s crops.
They stood strong and together this family. Through good times and bad. When people ask how I keep going when bad times keep piling up, I will now tell them, “It’s the family way.”