Family reunions bring out the old stories

My wife, sister and I met my brother at a large family reunion this weekend. The annual gathering is of descendents of my mother’s maternal grandparents who had eleven of their fourteen children survive to adulthood. This is the first time we have gone in many years and is the first one after my mother passed. To top it off, the three of us stopped at the home of family friends who went to college with my parents.

The old stories were wonderful to hear, many which were new to our ears. Here are a few highlights beginning with a couple we shared about our grandparents.

– My grandmother worked for a retail store overseeing the men’s and boy’s departments. When the CEO of the company visited, he was given a tour by the store manager for whom my grandmother worked for years. The CEO borrowed her pen and then put it in his pocket. She said “Sir, that is my pen; my boss is too cheap to buy us any pens. So, if you want any sales, you may want to give it back.”

– My step-grandfather would take us fishing leaving around 5 am. My Great Uncle would follow my grandfather’s truck and boat trailer with his. One morning my grandfather had to stop suddenly and my Uncle smashed into and crumpled my grandfather’s boat – we still fished, but had to rent a boat.

– One of the second cousins (the family was so large, the older children’s grandchildren were contemporaries of the younger children’s children) told a story about listening under the porch while her mother, grandmother and great grandmother sewed on the porch – it was too hot to be inside, so she heard all the gossip. Later, she said she helped them with the foot pedals as the sewers were too feeble to manually spin the bobbins of the old sewing machines.

– One of my mother’s cousins confirmed a story that my mother shared as her memory was fading. The cousin shared that she and another cousin hid in the backseat of the car in which my father and mother drove off to their honeymoon from the wedding reception. After a couple of miles the two culprits surprised the young newlyweds and they had to drive them back. As I told the confirmed story to my table, the wife of another cousin shared that she sang at my parent’s wedding. She recalled singing “Whither thou goest.”

– I confirmed with a couple of my mother’s cousins, that her younger sister was similar to Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” taking up for my mother when she was slighted. She was deemed a tad bossy at that age, but would give you the shirt off her back to help. Ironically, she was small in stature, but married a man who was 6’7″ making the oddest of pairs.

– The best reunion story relayed a piece of advice from the lone childless couple to his niece who shared it with us. He said don’t put everything off; go out and live. He lamented they have money and time as  retirees, but cannot travel. So, the niece said each time they felt they were saving too much for later, they remembered these words and went on a trip. This was voted the best story.

– My grandmother’s younger brother liked to do gymnastics. When a boy, he fell snd knocked out his two fronf teeth. Their mother, who was like a local nurse, sat him down and soaked a towel iin boiling water.  She let it cool a little and told him ti put that in his mouth as hot as he could stand it and his gums swelled. She then shoved his cleaned up teeth into the swollen gums and they held the teeth. To have that presence of mind is amazing.

– At the later gathering with my parents’ college friends, who we have known for years, they shared how hard they had to work at their college work study program. The two guys worked on a sawmill crew, where they took down trees for several days a week, loaded and trucked them back to the mill the next few days, then sawed them up later in the week. The women worked in the cafeteria, laundry and sewing areas. The work was hard, but it was the only way they could afford college.

I hope you enjoyed these vignettes. What are some of your memories of your older relatives?

Note: Looking over a photo of ten of the siblings, one of the cousins noted the older female siblings were much more conservative in dress, pointing to the closed toed and shorter heels. The younger female siblings had more stylish clothes along with open-toed and higher heels.

10 thoughts on “Family reunions bring out the old stories

    • Janis, thanks. Like with any family or school reunion, it takes an active few to make it happen. My Mother’s cousin Janice drives such success, but she is not alone. Many live within 90 miles, so it is easier.

      The family of our brother-in-law has an annual reunion numbering in the hundreds. He attributes it to each sibling’s family having one person who works with the others to plan. I think he said, the lead planner rotates among the families. Keith

  1. Note to Readers: At the home of my mother and father’s college friends, the man grew up with my father in a small town. They knew hard work even back then, working one summer in clearing trees for new power lines going in. Mind you, they lived near the Okefenokee Swamp in South Georgia and had to contend with snakes, alligators and other creatures. So, by the time they got to college, they were more prepared for the sawmill crew.

    This person has done well for himself, but he said my father coaxed him into going to college. He was not intending to go until he heard about this place where you could work off tuition and room/ board. He said my father’s Uncle, who raised him, drove them six hours to the campus then dropped them off and drove home. That adds clarity to what you are there to do.

  2. Note to Readers: A couple of more vignettes:
    – one of my great aunts would enter my grandmother’s house announcing “are you ready to play marbles?” That was her name for the board game Aggravation.
    – my Mother told me of visiting her cousins who stayed in Michigan after their parents ventured north to support the war effort. She recalled going into Canada to ride horses. That sounds so cool.
    – One of my great aunts was of the finest sort. She was the constant in hospital waiting rooms supporting ill family members. She passed away when she fell in her own house at 89 and hit her head, going quickly. That may be the easiest way to go for the deceased and family, simce there she did not suffer.

    • Thanks for your comment. So true. My mother could remember old stories better than recent ones as her Alzheimer’s progressed. It was cool to verify some of the ones I heard late.

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