GOOD TIMES GONE BY
Now that so many of the original twelve children of my parents' family have died, our family reunions are dwindling in size. We usually have a representative of each family branch, but the great crowds of people do not attend. With the size of our family and the distances involved, many of the nieces, nephews and cousins do not know each other well. When they do attend, they must feel like strangers.
We used to take every opportunity to get together during every season of the year. We had house parties and gatherings, laughing and talking, and often playing baseball. One of my earliest memories is Mom taking over the ice cream churn, an old-fashioned container one had to fill with the ice cream ingredients, top with dry ice, then peddle away as though you were making butter.
This was my first taste of ice cream and I remember how good it was, but the amount ladled into the cup was like a teaspoonful, enough for a few delicious bites, then the cup was empty. Yet everyone got their share.
We also had houseparties where the family members would dance, hopping around on someone's living room floor. I remember one night that such a party was held at my house. Hajalmar and Nelle drove up from Toledo with all of their kids. When it was time to end the party in the wee hours of the morning, we found that there was a blizzard outside, so Hajalmar and Nelle spent the night.
At that time, my husband and I were renting an old house in the downtown area of a village. There were three bedrooms upstairs, so I piled my boys into one of the rooms, kept the second for my husband and I, and gave Hjalmar the third.
Hjalmar was not a talkative man. He was usually just an observer, attending picnics and parties, but contributing very little to the conversation. On this night, he was trying to get his young daughter, Dana, to sleep. Dana, however, had other ideas. Hjalmar had evidently found a stuffed monkey among my children's possessions, and I could hear him talking to Dana.
"See the Monkey, Dana!" he cried. "Time for Monkey to night- night! Night-night Monkey! Good Monkey! Night-Night!"
This went on throughout the night, two o'clock, three o'clock, four. Hjalmar worked hard to get the Monkey to sleep, but was evidently having no success with Dana. Finally, as dawn broke over the horizon, the bedroom was quiet. Dana had passed out from utter exhaustion and Hjalmar had followed suit. Nelle had given up on the bedroom and had stretched out on the living room couch.
Drinks were not often served at our parties, but at one party at Helma's house in Detroit, someone brought out a bottle. My husband never held his liquor well and that night was no exception. So, when we left the house to go home, I decided that, for safety's sake, I had better do the driving. This infuriated my husband, who claimed he was stone cold sober. I persisted and so he decided that, if I would not allow him to drive, he would walk home, a distance of more than thirty miles.
I didn't know what to do, so when Bud and Hjalmar came out to find out what the commotion was about, I told them my problem. They took off in Hjalmar's car to find my husband. After waiting for what seemed like hours, they returned with him. They had found him on Woodward Avenue, sitting on a fire hydrant. However, before I could drive home, we had to get Eddie in his car.
Eddie, Norma's husband, was a Southerner, a congenial, very likable man who worked hard for his family. He had somehow decided to join my husband in polishing off the bottle that night and, in the adventures of the evening, he had forgotten to ask my sister-in-law, Gerry, to dance. So, when it came time for Eddie to go home, he refused to get in the car until he had danced with Gerry.
"Get in the car, Eddie," said Norma. "For Heaven's sake, get in the car!
"I told you, I want to dance with Gerry!"
"I want to go home, Eddie, get in the car!"
But Eddie refused and continued to refuse, with Norma Jean begging him, until the people left at the party piled out of the house to see what was happening.
"Get in the car, Eddie!" said Hubert, taking Eddie's arm, but Eddie pulled away and repeated his intention.
"I want to dance with Gerry!?
Helma's home was in a subdivision, with small lawns dividing each property. Eddie's car was parked in the driveway, close to the neighbor's house.
As everyone begged Eddie to get in the car, a strange voice spoke loudly from the window of the neighboring house.
"For God's sake, Eddie, get in the car. Gerry doesn't want to dance! Now get in the car!"
This deep voice, coming from nowhere, startled Eddie into complying. The crowd quieted down and went back in the house, and my husband and I began our journey toward home. Hopefully, Helma's neighbor, whose deep, sepulchre voice had gotten Eddie into the car, finally got some sleep.
Eddie died one Christmas Eve not long after that, still a young man, leaving his family behind. Norma Jean took over the task of raising her children and did a successful job of it, working in a hospital for many years.
I remember those gatherings and laugh at the amusing moments, still looking forward to a family reunion even though my hearing loss makes conversations difficult and even though so many of my brothers and sisters have passed on. Even those remaining look frail and sickly, because age is an enemy that eventually wins, despite any efforts to defeat it. The most one can do is try to delay it and sometimes even that is unsuccessful.
I sometimes wonder if the younger crowd, most of them cousins, have the deep need for family relationships that we used to have. I want them all to share that camaraderie, that love, that excitement that we used to enjoy as a family. We didn't have money, we didn't have prestige, but we had so many relatives, we felt rich anyway. I want them to grow up with their generation as I did mine, forming longlasting relationships with nieces and nephews. I think it helps throughout one's life to know one is never alone, never unloved, never living in a vacuum. As long as there's family, there's always someone to care.