Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Reunions and Other Reasons to Gather

This is Blake's Grandma Hurst. 

And this is when she was still Eunice Evelyn Kemerling.  Eunice is twenty years old in this photo.  The well dressed young man on whose knee she's sitting is Blake's Grandpa, Charles T. Hurst.  He's twenty seven and a farmer, but apparently that's not old enough or responsible enough for Eunice's father, Clay Kemerling. I know that because this is their wedding picture, taken just before they "eloped"with another couple to Clarinda, Iowa to get married.  It was August 27, 1927. Nearly fifty years after that, I stood in a receiving line for their Golden Anniversary at the Farmers and Valley Bank in Tarkio with my fiance, these grandparents, his parents, brothers and a cast of thousands (it seemed) all asking me if I remembered them from the wedding shower a week or two previous when I'd laid eyes upon them for the very first time. I hoped my red face would be attributed to the heat and my terror would be masked by a big smile and my youth would just be forgiven. I survived and the bond was forged: ever after our anniversary would be linked with Grandma and Grandpa Hurst's 
by the date and a half century.  A lot to live up to.

This is a photo of Clay and Retta Kemerling's offspring, circa 1989 at a reunion dinner at the Tarkio Nutrition Center.  I haven't counted how many folks are in this picture; I don't even know all of them.  The Kemerlings got together every two years or so and with all the Baptists in the crowd, it was no secret that the tables would be groaning with food and it would all be good, so assorted hangers on type relatives would show up from down in Fairfax to socialize and eat.  It was difficult enough for an in law like me to keep all the first cousins, cousins once removed and second cousins straight, much less some folks that were cousins several generations back.

There were Kemerlings that came from far away: several family members were long term military.  But most of the crowd in this picture is local.  Clay and Retta Kemerling had eight children, four of each.  At least one of the other daughters "eloped", too, leading me to suspect that perhaps Clay Kemerling didn't want to pay for any weddings. His daughters were (and are) formidable women. I have no reason to believe they didn't do exactly what they wished, within the bounds of propriety and without deception.

Grandma was gone when this reunion took place, but her three sisters, Aunt Pearl, Aunt Cecil and Aunt Luretta were still forces to be reckoned with. Aunts Pearl and Cecil were still attending church regularly: Cecil tiny and white haired, Pearl tall and dignified even in the dark glasses she wore to protect her failing eyes.  Aunt Pearl would  be guided to her seat by a relative, but she always seemed to know who was who during the service.  Aunt Luretta had gone back to college to get her degree in Geography somewhere in this time frame.

They were all intimidating, up to and including Grandma.  Pearl and Cecil had been school teachers and that no nonsense aura hung about them yet.  Grandma didn't run a classroom, but being a farm wife in those days required the kind of grinding work and organization we can barely imagine.  By the time Blake and I married and came back to farm, there was but one hired man.  But for many of the years they farmed, Grandpa had a whole table full of help to cut wood, mow and put up hay, plow, plant, cultivate, hoe, and harvest corn.  And Grandma fed them all, day after day after day. There was no electricity and would be none for years.  

Grandpa didn't darken the door of the Baptist church but Grandma was treasurer for 18 years. After we were married, I followed the example of my mother in law and started going to the church of my husband.  Grandma and I sang in the same choir for awhile and I'm sure I got back a few of the chips against me for being a Republican.  Did I mention the Kemerlings were all Democrats?  

Grandma loved to feed us all.  Traditionally, we ate Christmas breakfast at Millie and Charlie's and then showed up to open gifts and eat Christmas dinner at Grandma's.  The house was steaming by then and opening the door would vent all sorts of delicious smells.  Grandma was always hot in the summer, keeping her house about 60 degrees, but that didn't stop them from keeping the thermostat about 80 during the wintertime.  

Grandma and Grandpa were no spring chickens when their first great grandchild was born, but they acted like kids with a new puppy.  Little Lee was bundled, snuggled, tickled, and rocked every minute she was there.  We would drop her off on Tuesday evenings before we went bowling with Millie and Charlie and they would be waiting, at the door if not outside it....

This year Millie and Charlie were hosts for the Kemerling reunion.  I offered our yard as a central location with lots of shade.  Millie copied the entries for members of the family from the 1980 Tarkio Centennial book.  Lee and Ann helped collate before folks showed up for the Sunday lunch.
Here we are back in 1980 in our Centennial book entry.

 All the sisters and brothers are gone now, except for Aunt Luretta who just turned 95 years. We set out tables and sawhorses with plywood tops.  Every flat space was still groaning with food: meatballs and Texas potatoes, hamburgers and deviled eggs.  An entire table of desserts including an elaborately decorated birthday cake for Aunt Luretta. There was a prize for the one that traveled the longest distance and the shortest (across the hedge).  After we finished, the littlest kids played in the sandbox or under the sunflowers in the garden.  The adults listened attentively as members of the family read the short histories from 1980 and listened to updates received via emails and letters.  After all, the sons and daughters of the Kemerling family are grandparents and great grandparents in their own right and most of the younger folks weren't around to know the brothers and sisters.Well I remember trying to figure out which of all the aunts and uncles I met when we first married belonged to what very large family on either side.  I remember attending their funerals through the years.  These people were the pillars of our community when Blake and I were the young and green ones trying to earn our place. Then, we listened.

Fast forward a week.
More family celebration.  This time, we've packed our gifts, our games, our smiles and met to celebrate a little guy 94 years younger than Aunt Luretta.  Balloons were blown, released, and blown up again to festoon the deck.

We walked, we hopscotched, we played ambitious croquet and vicious bocce:

Cake was consumed and wrapping paper destroyed and the birthday boy took all the attention with good humor.

This is how we pass the torch in small town America.  We still load up the family, pack a food basket, bring gifts, and check for the camera, then drive hundreds of miles...or just five be face to face to celebrate, to mingle generations....

...tell tall tales....

and take the kinds of family pictures the grandkids can search for and pore over at reunions in years to come.

"Now there was great Uncle Julius
And Aunt Annie Mueller
And Mary and Granddaddy Paul
And there was Hanna and Ella
And Alvin and Alec
He owned his own funeral hall

And there are more I remember
And more I could mention
Than words I could write in a song
But I feel them watching
And I see them laughing
And I hear them singing along

We're all gonna be here forever
So Mama don't you make such a stir
Just put down that camera
And come on and join up
The last of the family reserve"
.........Lyle Lovett

1 comment:

  1. Near or far, family is always family. Love the old photos! My grandma and grandpa eloped also. :)

    Thank you for linking up to the Country Fair Blog Party for November!
    Laurie - Country Link