A few weeks back I was able to drive back to Iowa for a family reunion that was much-needed! Yes, I drove from Florida and I did it in 23 hours straight. The drive is diverse and beautiful taking me through Georgia, Tennessee, a wee bit of Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri until I reached my home state of Iowa. Since I drove down to Florida when I moved, I was anxious to see the mountains that I had missed in the darkness.
In Florida, you see nothing but flat marshland with trees everywhere. In Georgia you would expect to see the peach orchards but it’s basically flat and brown. Until you get into Atlanta. Crazy drivers! It seems as if everybody is in a hurry and you have to wonder what they are actually in a hurry for. Work, school, medicinal? I think their cars must have a perimeter shield protecting them in case aliens attack but they use it for the freeway. Yep, Atlanta is the worst city to drive in, around or through.
After Atlanta you move into the Smokey Mountains. By now, I’m driving the same as an Atlantean, like I have somewhere to be yesterday and the traffic is only in my way. I’m blindly watching the road when my thoughts wander to what my days will be like during this week. I won’t be able to see but only a few of my loved ones until Saturday at the reunion. I can’t wait to be there and yet I can’t help thinking of how I now fit into this family. I’m divorced twice and my children will not be there. At what table do I fit with? The teenagers? The adults that are married with children? The grandparents that so graciously spoil their offspring? I’m not sure why I’m thinking this as my family has never really been segregated. But I do feel that I no longer fit in with the norm anymore. My relatives seem to be content with the paths they have chosen..a more conservative path.
Once you reach Chattanooga you are in the mountains for only a brief period of time. You roll into Tennessee and then back to Georgia and then back to Tennessee driving not straight but curvy up a mountain and down the other side. Going up is a breeze but coasting down always scares me. What if my brakes fail? Get off my ass buddy!! Too many bumper huggers on this interstate. It’s nice to know Nashville is just a few miles down the road and I’ll be halfway to my destination.
Once the mountains disappear in the background you move into the bible belt of corn and beans. To somebody who has never been to the midwest it may be an amazing sight but to those who have lived with detasseling corn and walking beans in their adolescent years, they just might want to sleep the entire ride. Luckily, I drove through Illinois and Missouri in the dark but had been checking in on Facebook every so many stops. I was able to stay awake with replies from my friends and family and I know texting while driving is dangerous. I had to have something to keep me awake.
At dawn, I rolled into Iowa and I was in such awe of the hilly landscape of farmland. Near the Mississippi river, the fog was blanketing the fields as if to say “I will protect you through the harvest.” There were shades of purple, gray, green and the golden sunlight just peaking over the horizon. It was surreal, as if I were looking into a Van Gogh painting. I tried to take a picture but I was driving (as if texting weren’t bad enough). I couldn’t seem to coordinate the action of steering and clicking the camera.
I arrive in Iowa safely and take to “my” bed that I left in Iowa and slumber for a good solid five hours. I awake to a busy week with visiting old friends and my favorite daughter before I realize I have car lag and really don’t want to do anything but sleep. When Saturday arrives, I am actually pumped to see my extended family. Again, the thought enters my racing mind of how I will fit in and then it dissipates. I don’t have anything to bring to the potluck but I know my sister has my back. She always has and I am more than appreciative of that! She has always been my second Mom. As sisters, you usually have a special bond but when my sister moved out it became even tighter. We have had many trials through the years but she has a big enough heart for the world and I wouldn’t trade her for my biggest dreams.
I arrive early to the reunion and seem to be the first one. I’m always the first one. I’m just like my Mom. Always the early bird. I don’t want to miss out on anything. Kelly and her family are in the pole barn setting up tables and chairs so I lend a helping hand. I feel a bit awkward as my children are not joining us and my fiancé has decided to golf instead. I’m a loner. I guess that is what I have come to be these days. As more family slowly herds in, it is nice to see all the smiles. Even though we haven’t seen each other in a long time, we all spent countless hours together during our younger years. There are even family members trickling in I have never met or don’t remember meeting before. Maybe at my Mother’s funeral but I have to stretch my mind to see if I have filed the memories way back in the Z’s. Nope, don’t remember. I make small talk with everybody but for some reason I am not listening very good today. Perhaps it’s the awkwardness that I have been feeling or perhaps it is the glossed over look I get when they ask me what I’m doing with my life. I reply that I have just moved to Florida and am learning to write. They admire that I want to write but want to know what I’m doing for a job. I tell them I haven’t found a job yet and I get that glossed over look again. I think maybe I should just say I live in Florida and am a business woman…leave it at that!
I am the type of person that has to talk with everybody so I mingle for short periods of time with each and every person. However, I still have that awkward feeling of where I fit in. I move on to the kids as they are always a sure thing to get you laughing. Most of the kids are swimming and my niece, Kelsey, mentions there are water balloons in the garage. What? Water balloons? Let the fun begin! And so we proceed to round-up the kids but they don’t want to leave their comfortable swimming pool. Ok, then you’re getting hit in the pool. Alas, the fight begins and it seems all have succumbed to the fun but I have an idea. I’m going stuff my shirt (actually my bra) with the water balloons and see if anybody notices. One, two, three, four – OMG! Two of them break in my shirt and I’m soaked down the front and it looks like I peed my pants. I can’t help but laugh as I needed something to make me laugh at myself.
I return to the pole barn and sit with the teenagers for a while. My sister has recently re-married and I haven’t gotten to know her step-children yet. They are all talking about college and parties they are going to. Nothing I haven’t done myself. But Lisa, my oldest niece, always seems to bring out the best in the conversation and we start talking elevator talk. I can’t remember how we got started on this conversation but it lead down an interesting path. Lisa mentions a useful tool when you do get in a crowded elevator. She says that when the door closes, turn around and say, “Now I’ve brought you all here today because…” The expression on her face as she was saying this made me start laughing and laughing. You know what? I think I just might try this only to see the reactions of the bewildered.
Before everybody leaves the reunion, I want to get pictures for my blog. I try to gather everybody out in the yard. Unfortunately, this is no easy task. Everybody is busy reminiscing and do not want to be interrupted. I finally coax everybody out past the driveway at the pace of an alligator herd but they are still chatting. I’ve got to get their attention somehow so I stand on a bunch of rocks and yell, “Everybody has to jump up in the air on the count of five”! I got their attention alright but they all looked at me like I was an alien for a few seconds and then realized it was time to stand at attention. After the group photo, I took the pictures of each extended family, excluding mine of course. I’m the photographer. No pictures of me please. My niece Kelsey did get a few pics of me but they will not be shown her. To obscene for the naked eye!
Once we all grimaced through the photos, there is still some conversations going on but the families are slowly making their way to their cars and saying their goodbyes. I have enjoyed this day of community and really don’t want it to end. But I must move on myself as I have to drive another 23 hours back to Florida in the morning.
If there is one thing I have learned in life… FAMILY is the most important jewel we can hold on to!!
And so we all part in different directions but I miss my family and hold them very dear to my heart! I might not always show it but they have been my strength as I push myself to venture on my own and be the best I can be. They have seen the many chapters I have pursued and always stuck by me. Their advice has brought me to where I am today! My Aunt Janie told me several times that I need to be happy. That’s just what I’m doing!
Life’s an adventure! Until next time…
P.S. I want to apologize for not inviting my second cousin Rick Maybe. He has some amazing stories to tell. And, my older Brother Tony was not in attendance either as he lives in Arizona at the moment. We haven’t seen him for over eight years! We missed both of them!!
These are some of the photos and memories from the reunion. Enjoy and read when you can.
My brother Eddy’s family lives in Rochester, MN and as you can tell they are very busy with three children. I remember Eddy as this little boy with dark hair and the biggest brown eyes. He would come for the weekends in his Dingo boots and was definitely the favorite and I’m sure that had to do with being the youngest. Being so little, we actually put him in a dryer once and turned it on! As he got older he was into Adventure People, Hot Wheel cars, the movie “The Night of the Living Dead,” and wrestling. Oh how he loved wrestling. I think Bulldog Bob Brown might have been his favorite but don’t quote me on that. He even got “Stretch Armstrong” for Christmas one year and we cut it open just to watch the gooey stuff pour out. The basement floor was not cleaned until I moved out of the house. That’s when my mom found the mess!
Uncle Jimmy is my mom’s oldest brother and his family lives Pella, IA. Most people know my uncle as Bill but the family has always called him Jimmy. Amy & Mike have just bought a home in Des Moines, IA. Congratulations!! My Aunt Shirley passed away right before my Mom did and it sad to say that I wish she could have been with us. She was a pleasure to have around and always made sure to find out about my family and I. She had a good heart!
Oh look…my Uncle Jimmy’s first selfie!!
My sister lives in a small town in Iowa and has a rather large family now. Four daughter…Lisa, Lindsay, Kelsey and TeeJay, a new husband, Bret, and two new step-children, Dalton and Jordyn. Welcome to the family!!
Her extended family: Lisa has three children..Hilary, Dylan and CJ. Lindsay is married to Curt and they have one daughter Ava. I remember when all these great-nieces and nephews were born. Cute as buttons and they all looked like me..lol! And I can’t forget Kelsey’s boyfriend Kirk. I think they have been together since they were born. He’s a part of the furniture now.
I had never met Sibyl and Rochelle before this reunion. If I had, I don’t remember and I’m sorry for that. They are from the Donohue side. They live in Mankato, MN. I can’t say that I know too much about them yet but I do remember Rochelle is now working at Wells Fargo. I hope we get to see them again!
David’s family is from my Grandfather’s side…the Riherd’s. They live in Belle Plaine, IA. I do remember meeting David at my mother’s funeral and I remember my Mom speaking of his family often. My mother was always talking about her family. Unfortunately, I only spoke with David and his family for a short time but they seemed to enjoy their time with us also. I can only imagine the memories they have of my Mom. She was vibrant and adventurous as I am. I’ve seen a few pictures of all of them as I was going through old photos. They all seemed carefree!
My Uncle Phillip’s family lives in Bangor, ME. They have two beautiful daughter’s, Sarah and Kris, and a son, James, who were not able to attend. I remember more of James as he was born when I was in high school. Since he was much younger than I, he fit in better with my children. He stayed at our home for a weekend one summer. We had some leftover fireworks and since we lived in than country we decided to have a picnic and a show. I think I said they were old fireworks and they certainly had a mind of their own. Instead of shooting up in the sky they dove straight into a ditch for of dry grass and weeds! Danger..Danger..Danger! Needless to say, we had a bit of a fire to put out!
Kris’ son Gavin was able to join us and we are so glad he did. He’s a cutie! Very shy but also has great manners! He was listening to his iPod most of the time but I think he got the gist of how crazy we all are. I think he may even have a bit of our craziness!
My Aunt Janie’s family weren’t able to be with us except for her son, Chris and his daughter Meredith. I would love to have seen them all! We had some great memories growing up and have not seen each other for quite a few years. I can remember visiting my Aunt’s home on weekends when I was little. I loved to sleep over with my cousins, Chris, Lisa and Lori. They had all the fun stuff to play with and we would sneak into Chris’ room to listen to his Kiss albums. Their garden was filled with all kinds of vegetables and we would follow behind Aunt Janie picking the green beans while admiring the large tomatoes she was harvesting. There was also a cherry tree out behind her house. It only produced cherries every other year. I was able to pick it one year and made the most fabulous homemade cherry pie. Really the only time I made a homemade pie. I was so proud of myself!
This is my Mom and she passed away six years ago! She would loved to have been at this reunion. Her family was everything to her! She loved to talk about the old days when living in Red Rock, IA. Yes, Red Rock Lake used to be a town and that is where her family grew up. You know the story, they walked to school five miles with no shoes and in the snow. Ha! Ha! I can still hear her laugh!
Very well done, we love ya – Phillip & Barb