Monday, October 08, 2007

Monday Memories-Family Reunions

Needless to say, I've been thinking a lot about our family reunion coming up. Mostly I've been thinking about the logistics: how to keep the twins occupied on the long long trip to Texas, how to be able to bring decent food both on the trip and to the reunion when I can't cook, and trying not to get too stressed out about the entire situation. I've also been fondly remembering the family reunions of my childhood.

One of the main reasons that I want to go to this reunion is because of how wonderful they were for me, growing up. Yes, they were also boring in parts, but I also had a great time. My children don't have those memories so much. My family is in Tennessee and Texas and Friend Husband's family is now located in Florida, New York, and California and we just don't get together for the express purpose of catching up with extended family. When I was growing up, it was a given that we would be going to my mom's two reunions each year. Her father's family reunion (the Anderson reunion) was always in June and her mother's family reunion was always in October, and they were always different in tone and in activities.

The original Anderson family had something like 14 children in it (I'll have to check with Cousin Gwen for the exact numbers). Those children, their children, and grandchildren got together for years at Aunt Nina & Uncle Jack's house on a farm outside Austin. The main cool thing I remember about these reunions was that we got to drink all the soda we could handle! Back in the days before free soda refills and Big Gulps, this was indeed a bounty. They chilled the glass bottles (and later the aluminum cans) in a giant soda cooler filled with ice and we could just go by and snag them as we wished. There are other things I remember about this reunion: playing in the barn and in Uncle Jack's woodworking shop, listening to the ladies talking, exploring the old farmhouse (claw-foot tub, side porches, and Cousin Anna's room in the front of the house), running around the yard in the heat with all of the cousins, and admiring Aunt Nina's iris bed that seemed to stretch on for miles and miles. Before we dug into all the good, homemade food brought in, the "girls" (my grandfather's sisters) would link hands in a way that allowed them to cross their arms in front of each other, and would "sing grace". My memory is that they would sing the old Lutheran hymn "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow" but I may have that one wrong. It was an amazing thing to see stern Aunt Nina, fashionable Aunt Maedell, and all the rest of the aunts singing with one voice together.

Then we dug into the food. Of course, what I remember most were the desserts and just the general bounty of the table. I tried ostkaka for the first (and last) time there and other Swedish delicacies as well as the time-honored pies, cakes, and cookies that were the more usual fare. I don't remember now where I heard this story, perhaps my brother told it, but apparently my grandmother baked her spritz cookies for the Anderson reunion every year and was miffed that they were never grateful to her for the effort. Having made them on occasion myself, with her cookie press, I can attest to the fact that they are somewhat of a production. A wonderful production but time-consuming nonetheless.

As much as I loved the Anderson reunion, I felt more comfortable with the quiet people at the Carlson reunion. The Carlsons were my maternal grandmother's family. There were originally 12 children: six boys followed by six girls. Only the youngest daughter, Della, is still living. I was amazed to find out that all of the children in this family survived to adulthood, as did all but one of the Anderson children (Daisy died of whooping cough as a child). Childhood mortality being what it was and their being raised on a farm made me think that they possibly would not have made it that long but they certainly did. All but two of the children married and most of them had children of their own. The Carlson reunion was always in October but the location varied. Sometimes it was in San Angelo, at my Aunt Edith's house, sometimes in Brady, at Brady Park, and sometimes in Melvin, at the Fire Hall. Last year, Cousin David moved it to Brownwood State Park but after meeting with some reluctance, it was moved back to the Melvin venue.

There isn't just a lot to do in Melvin other than hang out at the Fire Hall and talk to family. When I was young, Mom would let us wander around the town, looking in all the vacant storefronts and poking around in empty lots. That was pretty cool for a child who was pretty much sequestered to where Mom's voice would carry when she called me home. Even then, I would gaze in at the mess inside the abandoned buildings and weave stories about the people who populated them.

Needless to say, I'm not going to be letting the children wander around Melvin. There are just too many wicked people in the world, but we may do a lap around just for old times' sake. My Uncle Elof and Aunt Sally's house is right around there, I think, and I may try to walk over there and try to capture yet more of my fading childhood memories. Of all my great uncles and great aunts (and there were many), Elof was my favorite. He always had something to say to us and had a fun sense of humor. And I hope to go to the cemetery and see the graves of my great grandparents and their children. I just love cemeteries.

Anyway, mostly what I remember about the Carlson reunions were the chill in the air and the quietness of them all. The Andersons weren't a rowdy bunch by any stretch of the imagination but the Carlsons mainly sat quietly talking and reminiscing. And drinking endless streams of coffee. I couldn't get over the amount of coffee those Swedes could consume during the course of the day. The food was, of course, wonderful (that's where I got my recipe for jambalaya, which Friend Husband just loves) and it was fun running around the playground at Brady Park, or playing in the playhouse in the back of Aunt Edith's house, but the big thing was everybody sitting around talking, then the family groups being photographed. Once, the Brady paper came out and took a picture of everyone for publication in the paper (yes, Brady is small enough where a family reunion can be news).

I hope the children aren't too bored by the proceedings. If I know the girls, they will sit quietly reading and the twins will be rumucking around the building, sneaking food. Since Aunt Mildred has passed, it's unlikely that we will have any huge displays. (The last time that Aunt Mildred came to the reunion, she was already well into either senility or Alzheimer's. The usual restraint of the Carlson women was not the greatest with Mildred anyway and on this occasion, she let loose with loud, raucous stories and songs. I believe that that was the year that I dragged Friend Husband to the reunion. It was a good time.) At the end of it, the girls will probably ask me why we traveled all the way to Texas to sit in a building with a bunch of people they didn't know. I will have to tell them that it's all about family.

I love my family. My mom was very involved with her extended family, at least by today's standards, and I absorbed some of that, being raised in her home. I enjoy hearing stories about the original Carlsons as well as their families. We are an amazingly diverse bunch of people (especially now that I've integrated the family with the addition of the twins!) and it's interesting to me to have some common memories but also to hear what's going on with their own lives currently. I guess that the girls might get a sense of that when we get together with my brother and his family and they can run willy-nilly with their cousins and enjoy the love and fun that my sil provides us. I doubt that the Carlson reunion will last until they are grown, but perhaps they will have one small memory of these quiet people to take with them into adulthood. Perhaps they will not remember or enjoy it at all but it's worth the chance for me. I will enjoy the reunion, if not the preparatory business beforehand. And that is why we are driving halfway across the country to the family reunion.


Leigh said...

I wish my family had reunions as regularly as your family. My dad tells stories, with much fondness in his voice, about the times when his father's six brothers and all wives and children got together for big birthday bashes and the annual "S" Christmas each year, and I feel so envious. I do my best just to see my grandmother every other year and the occasional aunt and uncle.

I think it's great you're making the effort to attend, and I'm sure your family will feel the same. Any chance you'll run into your sister???

Let me know if you'll be in my neck of the woods. The reason I've been to San Angelo a few times is that one of my friends from high school used to live there ten years ago. I will be in Lometa on Thursday. I bet you know that one.

It's been in the news lately that your former high school has actually had to cancel a few football games and might not even be able to finish their season because of injuries and low grades. It makes me sad to think about how many of my friends went there years ago and now they are about to close it due to such low performance. How things change.

Have a safe trip! Leigh

No Nonsense Girl said...

That's a nice thing to do. :)

Have a great week!!!

Julie@Shanan Trail said...

My Dad came from a family of 10. We got together this summer for one of my uncle's 40th wedding anniversary. Boy would my Dad have gotten a kick out of all the living kids getting together.

[Swedish delicacies] Uh, I am Swedish so I can assure you that this is an oxymoron. Have you ever once in your life heard of a good Swedish restaurant? What would they serve lutefisk and blood sausage?

Oh... and feel free to blog in the comment section of my blog anytime! That is the glory of this venue ~ a continual conversation between virtual friends.