My eyes are brown because I’m constipated. That’s what my Aunt Tillie told me. She was a Registered Nurse, which would make her an expert on such matters. Of course, when she broke this news to me, she didn’t use the nice medical terms. She just blurted out that I was full of it.
Aunt Tillie died several years ago. So have many of my other aunts and uncles. In fact, I have only one aunt left. Aunt Alice is in her late nineties. She lives with her only daughter, Peggy, who is now in her seventies.
Over the last year and a half, there have been four weddings in my extended family. My bride and I managed to make it to all of them. Come to think of it, one of them was ours! We also attended two weddings in Lu’s extended family.
During all that mingling with kinfolk, the idea of a family reunion was repeatedly brought up. Those of us who made the various trips (Colorado and Montana were included) had a marvelous time. But we missed the family members who were unable to join us.
To make matters worse, my two brothers (twins) who still live in our hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania both suffered heart attacks in that same time frame. Their wives have both had medical problems as well.
If we wanted to see everyone at an event other than a funeral, we had to do something soon. It’s unlikely we could get Aunt Alice or my brothers to leave Pittsburgh, so whatever we did would have to be done in Pittsburgh. I’m the youngest of six children, which, as any youngest child knows, makes me the likely candidate to be volunteered by the older siblings. And of the four of us who have moved away from Pittsburgh, I’m the closest… geographically speaking. Fate was pounding me from all sides. I agreed to organize a reunion.
Recall the numbers I’ve recited thus far. Actually, the only important number at this point is six. That’s the number of surviving children born to our parents. Getting six people to meet in Pittsburgh for one weekend seems like a simple task. We may or may not be able to achieve that task.
My one sister who lives in Florida decided it was too far to travel until my other sister in Florida found round-trip airfare for under a hundred and fifty dollars. In the meantime, my brother in California retired. That meant he’d be able to make it with no sweat. He’d be able to drive.
My brother in California is terrified of flying. He does so only when there’s no other way to get to wherever it is he’s supposed to be in time for whatever it is he’s supposed to attend. If he must fly, he finds ways to numb himself to the experience. Even then, it’s “white knuckles” all the way.
He would’ve been able to drive had he stayed retired. However, he’s now working as a host at a campground somewhere in Idaho. If he goes to the reunion, it’ll have to be aboard a big noisy bird. He will not be a happy camper or campground host.
So, of the original six, we should have at least five of us in attendance. That was easy. The rest has not been.
My sister Wilda, whose husband is deceased, has two children, a daughter-in-law, a son-in-law, five grandchildren, a grandson-in-law, and three great grandchildren. They are scattered throughout four states. That’s a total of fourteen people to try to get to Pittsburgh for a weekend. The good news is they’re all on the east coast.
My sister Gertrude, whose husband is also deceased, has two children, a daughter-in-law, four grandchildren, one granddaughter-in-law, two grandsons-in-law, and two great grandchildren. They are scattered more than the hash browns at the Waffle House. Recall I mentioned Colorado and Montana earlier. Add Florida and Seattle, Washington to that mix. That’s another thirteen to find extra beds for.
My brother Lew, now hosting a campground in Idaho, has a wife, four children, two sons-in-law, one daughter-in-law, and seven or eight grandchildren. (Sorry, I’ve lost count.) They are spread out from South Carolina, to Missouri, California, Washington, and, of course, Idaho. If my math is any good, we now have another sixteen or seventeen mouths to feed.
My other brother Lew, and my brother Bill also have large families, but they live in and around Pittsburgh… except for my nephew Bill who lives in Portland, Oregon. They can find their own accommodations.
If we add me, my bride, my four children, two daughters-in-law, one significant other, and three grandchildren we’re now looking at a potential number somewhere between seventy-five and a hundred.
Trying to keep all these people straight and trying to get them to hold still long enough to be counted has been an absolute nightmare. Then OPEC decided to make things even more difficult. As the gasoline prices went up, the number of family members planning to attend went down.
In the meantime, my sister Gertrude suggested I contact various cousins. I wrote letters to cousin Ruth in Philadelphia and cousin Shirley in Pittsburgh. The next thing I knew people were asking me why I’d decided to have two reunions and exactly when the one in Georgia was going to be held.
Gertrude broke this news to me. She’d been talking on the phone to cousin Peggy, Aunt Alice’s daughter. Cousin Peggy had been talking to cousin Shirley who misunderstood my letter. Gertrude tried to explain to Peggy that Shirley had read the letter wrong, but Peggy couldn’t understand what Gertrude was saying because Peggy’s deaf.
Cousin Peggy has been deaf in at least one ear since 1974. That’s the year my father died. At the funeral I found myself riding in a limousine with Aunt Alice and Peggy. They both had their deaf ears pointing toward me sitting between them. Of course they insisted on carrying on a conversation with each other. It went something like this.
Aunt Alice: Isn’t that the house where Margaret Johnson used to live?
Cousin Peggy: WHAT?
Me: WAS THAT MARGARET JOHNSON’S HOUSE?
And so on for what seemed like a lifetime.
About a week after the confusion began, and a few days after I sent a second letter to my cousins, I got an e-mail from the widow of another of my cousins. Kathy wanted to know why the reunion was being held in Georgia. Come to think of it, she’s also a Registered Nurse. Perhaps she’d heard about my consternation and decided to poke a bit of fun. In any case, she is planning to attend the reunion. That’s a good thing; Cousin Shirley won’t come unless Kathy picks her up and takes her.
I’m not sure why Shirley won’t accept a ride from anyone else. I’m not going to ask. But it does make me sad. There’s some problem within the family that is not being discussed and, therefore, has no hope of being resolved.
My bride’s father recently attended a funeral in Chicago; it was for one of Lu’s cousins. Another of Lu’s cousins made the trip with Lu’s dad. The cousin making the trip was paying her last respects to a person she hadn’t talked to in twenty or thirty years. Neither of them would discuss the problem with anyone. They had a problem and they held on to it… to the end.
I pray that our family doesn’t have similar severe problems. I want this reunion to be a memorable occasion. I want everyone to have a great time. I want to be able to say, “I did my job well.”
However, if they expect me to organize the next one, I’ll tell them all they have brown eyes.
UPDATE: This article was written in 2000. Fortunately, we had more than fifty people attend the reunion, and that included all six of us ‘children’. It was the first time all six of us had been together at one time since 1966. Sadly, it was the last time we’ll ever be together in this world; we lost our brother Bill in 2002. We’ve also lost Aunt Alice.
During the reunion, I asked all my relatives – young and old – to write down all they could remember about parents, grandparents, children, and grandchildren. The only way our descendants will know anything about us is by our recording the information and passing it down to them.
If you have older relatives with knowledge of your ancestors, take the time to talk with them and learn all you can while there is still time.