Monday, June 25, 2007

Family Ties

Maybe, before I get writing this post, I should put forth a little warning here - "this post may contain some really sentimental stuff"so, if you are like me and get all warm and fuzzy feelings or perhaps a little teary-eyed over sentimental stuff, then be prepared!

If you recall, yesterday my daughters, the grandkids and I attended a family reunion. This was my Dad's family but it really is a family reunion of my oldest uncle's family with others who are cousins of theirs invited to share in the festivities. Uncle George and Aunt Henrietta had ten children, of which nine are still living and I think they also had 34 or 35 grandchildren. I wouldn't even try to calculate how many great-grands and even great-great-grands there are in that branch of my family tree but suffice it to say - there are A LOT! When my Aunt Henrietta died six years ago, her obituary stated in a headline that she left over 100 descendants. And, she raised most of her ten children as a single mother too - quite an accomplishment for the 50's! My uncle died in 1949 and at the time, she probably had at least seven, maybe eight children still at home. The youngest was only around three years old anyway.

The thing here is, I never met that uncle! Or if I did, I was too small to have any memory of him whatsoever. I grew up knowing I had these ten first-cousins but I was never around them at all! The first memory I have of ANY of his family was when my Dad's baby sister got married -I think that was in 1953 -and Aunt Henrietta attended the wedding with the three youngest children with her. They sat in the same pew at the church as my Mom and I were seated in and all I remember is this boy, close to my age who kept edging closer and closer to his mother - same as I was doing with mine - and I whispered to my Mom -"Who are those people?" Her response was, typical for my Mom, "Well, they are your cousins and your Aunt Henrietta." And she said it in a tone of voice that implied I should have automatically known who these people were! Go figure! How would I possibly recognize three children and a woman who I'd never seen before - not even in a photograph?

I don't really know why we never saw them although I knew where they lived and it wasn't really all that terribly far from where I grew up. As a matter of fact, every time we went to the PIttsburgh area to visit my Mom' s brother and his family, we drove right through the little town where this aunt and all these cousins lived. Mom knew which house they lived in and often pointed it out to me as we drove through the town but no matter how much I pleaded with her to stop sometime so I could meet these cousins, she would never do it.

I have no clue why she withheld my getting to know these relatives, but I always resented the fact that I never knew them. I knew my Dad's family that lived near to me, as Mom and I always went to visit my Dad's sister and her husband and his brother and his wife who lived in the family homestead. We also would occasionally visit my Dad's older brother and another sister who both lived in a town about 12 miles from us although another uncle of my Dad's who lived down the road from the family homestead, we never seemed to socialize with him so I barely knew him when I was growing up, nor did I know his only daughter very well either.

My Dad died when I was an infant; his mother died when I was about 2 1/2 years old - so the circumstances there probably didn't provide enough "family glue" I suppose for Mom to make sure I knew my Dad's family near as well as I knew her family.

Fast forward to 1970 when the uncle who I didn't know all that well as a child died. Mom and I -and my older daughter who was about three years old then -drove up from Maryland where we were living then for his funeral. And, at that funeral were three of Uncle George's sons, their wives and their mother - along with two half-sisters of my Grammie's who I had no idea were still living!

After that funeral, my Mom seemed to open up a bit, telling me more little stories about my Dad's family and through things I learned then, I could understand why these cousins and my aunt had been sure to come to Uncle Rab's funeral because on several occasions, years back, he had boarded with them when work took him to the small town where they lived.

It wasn't until the late 90's that I had occasion where I was able to finally meet some of Uncle George's daughters and my aunt again for the third time in my entire life! And by the time I met them, I had begun to develop a strong interest in family tree stuff. I had also been wanting to meet and have a chance to talk to some of my older cousins too who might have some memories of my dad that they would perhaps be willing to share with me.

At one point, in the early 90's - shortly after I came to the realization that I not only wanted but I NEEDED to know more about my Dad in order to understand more about myself. It had only taken me close to fifty years to realize there were things about me that I just didn't comprehend and sometimes -often, really - gave me a feeling of being "odd-man-out" sort of. I use that term simply because I don't know a better way to describe those feelings.

I knew all of my Mom's family and had always felt very close to them. My Dad's brother - Uncle Arch and his wife, my aunts on my Dad's side too - I was close to them -loved them dearly. But there were times when somethings about me just didn't seem to "fit" exactly with my Mom's family.

So, I had begun my search to learn more about my Dad by first speaking to my cousin Janet Lee -who would have been about ten years old when my Dad died and I knew her mother and my dad were very close. When I approached Janet with a request if she could tell me anything at all that she remembered about Daddy, she was quite brusque with me, saying she remembered "nothing, I don't remember him at all!" What? Her reaction was far from what I had expected. I then approached my cousin, Margaret Anne, who was about the same age and she was very sweet about her response to me, apologized profusely to me that she really couldn't tell me anything because she had never been around Daddy all that much when she was a young child. That then left me with the older kids in Uncle George's family to try to meet some of them, somehow and see what they had to say.

It was good fortune for me that one Sunday of a Memorial Day weekend, after having gone to the cemetery where my Mom and Daddy are buried, that I had stopped by my youngest Aunt's home and lo and behold, there was my Aunt Henrietta and three of her daughters visiting my aunt. They too -like me - had been to the cemetery where Uncle George is buried, next to my Mom and Dad, and had stopped at Aunt Mike's house afterward. (Yes, my aunt is nicknamed "Mike" -although her given name is Anna Mae.) This was the first time I met the three older girls of Uncle George's family - Mary Jane, Isabel and Bessie Ann. They were having a light lunch with my aunt and invited me to join them - an invitation I gladly accepted too!

They chatted about so many things, laughing, telling stories about their Dad, what he was like and after we ate, I cornered Isabel in the kitchen and asked her if she remembered my Dad and if so, what could she tell me about what he was like. When she told me she remembered him fairly well, I was really in seventh heaven! She said she remembered how he would pop in and visit at their home, usually unplanned visits; how he would tease her and her siblings. She said the best thing she could remember about him was that in so many ways, he was very much like her own Dad -very friendly, outgoing, also very fun-loving too!

You can't imagine how good it made me feel to talk to someone who understood what I wanted to know - I already knew his name (of course) his date of birth and death, the kind of work he'd done but what I was after was to know what KIND of person he was, underneath the appearance of the man! The emotions that fueled him maybe was what I was trying to learn about. People would tell me when I was a kid he was so handsome; he was a really nice man; he was a hard-worker; he really cared deeply about his mother and his entire family but especially that he had tried to help his mother as much as he could. But no one had ever told me little things - what he liked, did he have hobbies, talents sung and unsung, how he felt about society, was he biased? All kinds of things that had someone told me more in-depth things about him as a child, I'd have had more of a clue as to why I often reacted the way I did to many things.

I met those cousins and my aunt another time - in the spring of 2000 and at that time, Aunt Henrietta was full of talk about the Hill Reunion that was to take place that summer and she wanted to know if I was going to attend it. She was so enthusiastic about it and, having grown up around the family reunion on my Mom's side - which I always loved - I decided then and there, that yes indeed, I was going to make every effort to go to the Hill Reunion that year!

And I did! At the time it was held though, I almost didn't get there because my car was not running all that well and I ended up -thanks to some help from one of Uncle George's granddaughters, hitching a ride to the park outside of Philly where the reunion was held with the son of another cousin who lived at that time in State College, PA - which is only about 35 miles from where I live! Talk about good fortune huh? I was pretty much overwhelmed at that reunion by the sheer size of it! Of the hundred and twenty some in attendance that day, only three of us there were NOT direct descendants (by birth or marriage) of my Uncle George! The other two people were a cousin from my Grammy Hill's side (the Nelson Clan) and his wife!

I spent the night after that reunion at the home of my cousin Isabel and some of her sons and their wives (and children) as well as my youngest cousin, Rodney, and his wife, Lois, came by to visit there as Aunt Henrietta was also staying with Isabel then too. Getting to know some of my cousins a bit more, seeing how easily they related to me, gave me such a great feeling.

And I'm so glad I put forth the effort needed to attend that reunion because a year later, my Aunt Henrietta died. At the time of her death, I wasn't at home though - I was visiting in Indiana, PA with a cousin of my Mom's for a day and a night and didn't get the message from my Aunt Mike about Aunt Henrietta's passing. Strangely enough, when I left Indiana to return home, I decided to drive down by Aunt Henrietta's home, see how she was doing -not knowing that she'd passed away. The oldest cousin, Mary Jane, happened to be at the house when I stopped and she told me I'd missed the viewing and the funeral, etc. But, she showed me around a bit, inside the home that had been her family's homestead for many, many years and we sat and talked about many things from her past, from mine - all of which has helped me to come to terms, within myself, about who I am and to know I am definitely my father's child! (Not that there was ever any question about that, just that I never knew what aspects of him had been passed along to me, genetically speaking.)

And so, when I asked my girls if they wanted to attend this reunion yesterday on the Hill side of their family, they had both said yes, they really wanted to do that. I was still a bit worried going over to the reunion yesterday that they might not enjoy being around so many people that they had no clue who they all were but thankfully, my cousin Margaret Anne and her family were going to be there so that meant there would be at least 11 people my girls would know and could talk to anyway.

But, these other cousins were all so friendly, so open to my kids and grandkids - just as they'd been to me - that both my girls were really glad they'd decided to attend as they both raved about how much fun they'd had yesterday!

As my older daughter said to me on the phone this morning when we were rehashing the events of the reunion, that to her one thing that stood out was how you could just see and FEEL the love and respect Uncle George's kids all had for each other and how that had been passed down to the rest of the family -their kids, grandkids, etc. How funny these cousins were the way they teased each other back and forth which Carrie felt was very much the same closeness she and her brother and sister also share for each other. Not that they don't from time to time have their little fallings out and tell each other off - and as I learned from some of my cousins yesterday -they do the same thing too (of course, it's normal in any family) but by the same token, no matter how ticked they might be one day, if the next day that sibling appeared and needed something, they'd be there, 100% to help any way they could.

The cousins who organized this reunion yesterday did their normal bang-up job having everything possible covered from virtually every angle! Games -they had 'em and had them planned out almost to the minute too! They also had a family competition too - the "Hill Family Idol" contest in which each family group was to try to do some type of presentation. Ok, my girls and I didn't have anything planned but had hoped to get up with Maya and get her to "sing" some of the songs she will often sing to us at home - "One, Two, Three, Like a Bird I Sing" is one of the songs she likes and also "You Are My Sunshine" which she will sing along with us - we sing a line, she sings the next line, and so forth. But Maya was too taken by the park, the rides, all the other "peoples" and kids to be seen so there was no getting her to cooperate. Some of the skits my cousins and their kids put on were absolutely hilarious! As where many of the comments from those of us - one from each family of the first cousins present -who were the judges of the competition. My cousin Margy's grandson, Pj, won with his karaoke rendition to Tennessee Ernie Ford's song "Sixteen Tons." But, as I told my girls, as soon as Pj announced what he planned to sing and he wanted to dedicate this number to his "Great-grandpap, who was a coal miner and to all miners everywhere," and when he started to sing, EVERYONE joined in singing along with him, I knew the kid had it in the bag then and there! That dedication is really what put him over the top because you see, my dad, my Uncle George, Uncle Rab, Uncle Arch, Uncle Bill, Uncle Alex, my Grandpa Hill, my Great-grandpa Hill and lots of Hill men before them over in Scotland had all been coal miners!

My girls are looking forward now too for the time when there is another Hill Family Reunion and you can bet your bottom dollar, they won't think twice about whether they will attend or not - they'll be there if it is at all possible!

Really makes my day to see them react, respond, feel this way and darned glad that they are still young - Mandy is 31, Carrie just turned 40 - so they have (hopefully) a lot more time ahead of them to get to know this side of their family a little better, become a little closer with each get-together too!

Here's three photos taken at our 2000 Hill Family reunion - the top one being of the 120 plus family in attendance. I can't wait to see how this year's group photo turns out!

Yes indeed - those Family Ties are really important!
And, to start your week out now too -here's the Bushism for Monday, June 25, 2007!

"I want to thank you for coming to the White House to give me an opportunity to urge you to work with these five senators and three congressmen, to work hard to get this trade promotion authority moving. The power that be, well most of the power that be, sits right here." - Washington, D.C.; June 18, 2001.


Sandy Lender said...

Woman...I've been missing you in our writers' group; and it looks like you've been traveling for a family reunion! What a wonderful excuse to be away from the computer for a few days. It sounds like you had a productive and affirming experience, my dear. I look forward to your return to the group, but I'm pleased to see how nicely your time with family turned out.

Sandy L.
"Some days, I just want the dragon to win."

Linda said...

It's posts like this that make you realize just how important family reunions are as it gives you a chance to reconnect or connect for the first time with family members that you might have forgotten about or never even knew existed.

This is definitely part of that history you mentioned getting to know in your comment to my post on Custer's Last Stand.

Family is history and getting to know them is getting to know your own history. Glad you got to learn even more about some of yours!