This week’s post is Part Two of a three-part series written by me to my children and is a continuation from last week.
Go HERE to read “Family Matters: Matters is a Verb, Part 1” if you missed it last week.
Family ReunionsÂ were the best part of “going home” when we made our trips “back home”
Our families genuinely enjoyed being together. I remember a Christmas gathering at Grandma Hertzler’s farm (colored photo below) probably in the early 1950’s. Most our trips were made in the summer.Â We grew in numbers! I had 20 cousins on your Grandma’s (Hertzler) side and 28 cousins on your Grandpa’s (Longenecker) side.Â With that many, we often picnicked in the meadow of one of my uncle’s farms or a state park.
A favorite memory is three days at my Aunt Esther, Grandpa’s older sister, and Uncle Andy’s farm (black and white photo below).Â A stream meandered through the meadow from one end to the other. We cousins built dams across across that not-so-big (little) stream – believing we could create a small pond for swimming, or at least big enough for wading.
Annual trips “back home” to see my cousins became my “normal” during my growing up years.Â Our family made close friends (who become our “family”) in places far away from “back home” in Pennsylvania – in Dixie AL and Morton IL. As a pastor/missionary kid it became myÂ “normal.”Â Inevitably, we cousins lost regular contact with each other in our college and adult years raising our families.
I’m glad you children got to know your Hiestand PA cousins when we lived there in the late 1970’s.Â But when we visited my parents in Montana your Longenecker cousins were small children. By the time they grew up, you were establishing your own families.Â I wish we had helped you keep contact with them.Â It was easy to forget how muchÂ Family Matters.
When we (you kids and us) moved to Chicago, our immediate families were hundreds of miles away.Â We realized that your families might live far away as well.Â Gerald, you and Jill moved to Nebraska and started your family before you returned to Illinois. Todd, you and Melanie created your home in Pennsylvania and now Oregon. Scott, you brought Jill to the Chicago area. For each family who would want their kids living close to them, there is likely another family wishing the same thing.Â Besides not being a fair expectation on our part, it would be unreasonable in the mobile society in which we live.
In short, we embrace your “home” where ever it is.
In March 2009, your great Aunt Lois (the one who called all of us her favorites) and Uncle Elmer, invited the girl cousins to their condo in Long Boat Key in Florida for a weekend. We came from Texas, Minnesota, Illinois and Pennsylvania to spend time in one place for the first time in years. We spent a laughter-filled 2 1/2 glorious days together.Â That Saturday we laughed and told stories all morning.
After lunch we laughed and told more stories.Â Aunt Lois was certain they would be evicted from their condo from all the laughter and noise.
That weekend in March re-connected us in ways we didn’t know we needed. That September your Grandma Longenecker died and several of them came to the funeral to be with me.Â We cousins committed to getting together again.Â And we made it happen aÂ couple years later.
The Longenecker Cousins’ Reunion July of 2011.
There’s your Grandpa Longenecker between his sister Lois (the one who called us her favorites) and Uncle Elmer, right in the front. Your dad and I are over on the right hand side (me in purple, dad in gray.) This was the “fun picture.â€ If you look closely, you see Uncle Elmer giving your Grandpa bunny ears. I guess some kids never grow up!
Through Facebook, IÂ reconnected with some Hertzler cousins and in the spring of 2013, suggested we get together again.Â It had been many years since I had been with most of them.
Below is the result;
Hertzler Cousins Reunion May 2013 at Slate Hill Mennonite Church where Grandma Longenecker grew up and where she and Grandpa Longenecker got married April 5, 1947. Now there is a standing yearly cousins reunion over Memorial Day weekend “back home.”
Right there in the middle in the second row from the bottom is Grandma’s sister Janet (in the gray sweater) and her brother Maurice – the only two siblings left in Grandma’s family – out of nine 9 living children.Â (One died when she was 18 months old) . I am in the pink top, right in the middle. Your Dad stayed home and took care of Grandpa Longenecker so I could go. (Not all men would be that helpful in caring for his elderly father-in-law. Your dad was an example of a man with a servant’s heart.)
And I learned something:
These reunions changed the distance between us
not the miles, but the connection.
We had grown up and changed
yet in many ways we hadnâ€™t changed at all,
more like an older version of the kids we used to be;
only we now had kids and grandkids of our own.
We were still “us.”
And soon I would be with my cousins again at your Grandpa’s memorial and I didn’t want to miss it – the love, the family, especially having no siblings of my own anymore.
Hence the text to my friends, asking them to pray for me to be present and receive love from my family. (SeeÂ “FamilyÂ Matters Part 1″Â to make the connection)
And it turned out to be more meaningful for me than I could have known.
(to be continued . . . . .)