Monday, June 8, 2015

A Kansas Cousin Reunion

                                            Grandchildren of Jim and Mary Catherine

One branch of my paternal family started when an Irishman and a German came to America. Their children met and married in Kansas. Thus started the raucous lines of McKinney/Westoff. It was not an easy match as you can imagine. As James was a wild, short-tempered, drinking man and Mary Catherine was a gentle, loving, and loyal soul. They lived both a successful, hard, and then deteriorating life. Sometimes in late 1920s or so, Mary Catherine divorced Jim which must have been a hard thing to do in those years. She had nine children.

             Don, 82, still works cattle and at stock yard. Note recent slash on head from kicking bull!

Her oldest son married a woman also with both an Irish and a German parent. This couple became my grandparents. Their generation was to rear their families during the Great Depression. They suffered greatly during those years and a few of the younger children went to California to work in the orange groves picking fruit. Most moved back over the years gradually settling back into southeast Kansas or Oklahoma. My grandpa stayed in Kansas where he had his own garage, worked for the county road district, and finally in better times opened his own DX station.

                              Organizer Clare Marie at 80, still moves like a steam roller

These nine children’s own children were many. As they began to marry and go off to the armed services, sometimes to war, their parents continued to meet every summer to share covered dish dinners, ball games, and family gossip. Any leaving or returning or marrying child was an occasion for feasting. I loved going to those family reunions, all those faces and voices and stories! In such large strung out families sometimes my dad’s cousins were as young as his own children. So both first and second cousins made for a pack of kids to run with under the summer sun.

                                             Youngest sister with her youngest daughter and boyfriend

As the years passed though, James and Mary Catherine’s children became the older ones, then they too began to pass away. The reunions died out as the extended family became more far flung than ever. Then one of the first cousins began to gather what was left of family, getting those remaining nine children to gather a few times more. Now there is a cousin’s reunion every two years, but the numbers continue to fade. Only the wife of one those nine children remains, Aunt Gertrude, who at 98 still gets around but will move to her first assisted living this week.

I pushed my youngest sister and a couple of cousins to attend this year. I told them if this is going to stay alive we “younger” ones need to help. They did come and for the first time my niece and her boyfriend also came. The group was small but I find comfort there for a couple of hours when I look around the room and see familiar faces. Not just the ones I know but I also see similarities of faces of those departed ones. My niece also told me she “saw faces that reminded her of Grandpa”.

It is a bittersweet day in its own way. As we hug goodbyes and write down email addresses, we all silently wonder who will still come again in two years. We hit the highway for home and life’s river meanders on…..

                                             A few of the great grandchildren, next keepers of the flame


Elephant's Child said...

What a wonderful experience.
My family was small (tyrannies of distance and estrangement). I was in my thirties before I knew I had cousins - and have never seen them.
Cherish your family while you can. And I love that the next generation is coming to see the value...

Patricia A. Laster said...

Are you the one in black, Claudia? Good story and appropriate because my siblings and I are preparing for a July 4 reunion at Couchwood and environs. There are 7 of us eight siblings still living--I'm the eldest at ... pushing 80.

Linda O'Connell said...

I love this post as it reminds me of the generations before me that were instrumental in my life. It is such a bittersweet time meeting new relatives and missing those gone on. You are right, it's now up to the young ones to carry on the tradition.