Sixteen. First, there were 39; now, there are 16. I have 16 aunts and uncles left in this world. They are unsystematically moving from this world to the next in no particular order. Monday, it was my Aunt Luella’s turn. Her funeral was Monday. My aunts and uncles dying ushers in the end of a time that I thought would never end.
As my extra-large family would gather at the holidays and reunions and the aunts and uncles were everywhere, and I thought these times would last forever. But forever has come, and it signifies a couple of things.
First, my many cousins and I are becoming orphans. Secondly, we must assume the role of the oldest generation – no more calling “mom” or “dad” to solve problems, schedule visits or get cooking advice. Third, we see each other less and less each year as our own families grow larger and larger and spread themselves across the country.
I’m sad, and yet in a small way, I can picture the joy my mom and her family experience every time one of the flock joins those in heaven.
My Aunt Luella was one of my mom’s older sisters; she was 97 in August. I loved her. In my mind, I can still see her doing a jig at one of our annual picnics with her red shoes; she was in her 90s at that time. I told people I wanted to be just like her when I grew up – lively and good-humored.
As large as my family was, I knew them all. There was no questioning where we spent our Christmas and Easter holidays, always meeting at my grandparents’ house. That’s plural because once they moved to Wishek, they lived maybe eight blocks apart. My dad met my mom at his brother’s wedding to my mom’s sister, so I have three double cousins. I thought everyone’s family was fashioned, so we all had the same set of grandparents. I found out that wasn’t true. In college, I learned that not everyone in the state was German-Russian and not everyone was my relative.
The year I was born, Grandma Meidinger insisted on an annual picnic held for more than 50 years religiously on the third Sunday in July. First, the family met at the farm, then at the Wishek park. Let me tell you, the food was phenomenal. Even in the hottest weather, the potluck included fried chicken, homemade sausage, knephla and kraut and desserts of every make and model. One thing about my relatives – food meant love. And, they loved each other a bunch.
When my mom, her sisters and sisters-in-law got together, the visiting was endless. Like a flock of chickens clucking in the farmyard, they visited up a storm. Perhaps you guess why words spill from my mouth in the rapid-fire fashion they do. To this day, when I meet up with one of my many cousins – somewhere in the 40-50 range – I have to allow for minimally 30 minutes of catch up. It’s so sad that most of the time, we meet at funerals as the weddings have dwindled to nearly none.
Things change, we change and times change. Today, I remember those times, my aunts, my uncles, the food, the laughter, the music in a positive light. I’m very grateful for the Christmas holiday and the memories – the most beautiful memories of the generation that shaped me, nearly gone but never forgotten. Rest in peace, Aunt Luella and say hello to my mom until we meet in heaven.
Sue B. Balcom
Writing, or maybe talking, comes naturally to me and under the guidance of a great newspaper editor I have acquired skills that led me to author four books.