This week our family has attended two funerals thus far, which is sad since it is only Tuesday. Sunday we attended the funeral of a co-worker of my husband, and yesterday, one of my cousins. Both persons had lead full lives, full of experiences many of us never get to experience.
In the case of the first man, he was born in Slovakia. When the Russian invaded his country in 1968, and killed neighbors in front of him, he took his wife and two daughters and fled. He left all he owned behind-including his home, money, furnishings and more. He did manage to have a few photographs and copies of his two college degrees. He spoke no English, but made it across boarders into Switzerland and then onto a ship bound for the United States. At his memorial service they told of many stories of his past, including things that happened before his daughters were even born. The family produced photos and letters that spelled out his life. By viewing and reading them, I felt as if I had somehow lived a small part of it or watched him portray himself in a movie.
Yesterday we attended the funeral of my father’s cousin Joe Espey. Again a full life and well documented with photos that were laid out in chronological order showing his life, beginning with his young life, and FFA days and later being a grandfather to eleven grandchildren.
I keep a lot of family history-some of it I gathered, and much came from my Aunt Mina Alice Espey Robison and some from my cousin Matt Wilson that he traced back to Austria. I thought I knew a lot of the history, yet I found out more yesterday. I didn’t realize that Joe had gone to England with the International Farm Exchange Youth, or that in 1982 he was an Ambassador to China. I knew him as a retired banker who farmed on the side with a son and 3 daughters, and a wife who has beautiful flowers planted in their yard.
Before the funeral we went to my cousin Karen’s house and I heard some of the stories I had heard several times, and a few new ones. After the funeral we went to visit an aunt in the nursing home, and then to visit another cousin in her 90’s. Hear again I heard some more stories.
These stories are what make our families, our history and our heritage. Often I have told a person they should write down a story or an event and they laugh at me, and reply that no one would be interested in that. True, your child may not be interested in that now, but what about later, after your gone? Or perhaps your grandchildren or great grand children?
Each year our family has a reunion in Maryville MO. It is the “Shinabarger reunion”. We are descendants of the Shinabargers, but it has been years since a Shinabarger has been there on a regular base. Each year our group gets smaller, as people die. In recent years we have lost several- Helen, Fran, Charlie, Dick, Beverly, and now Joe, among others. Each year we can feel the emptiness of those who are no longer there. The younger ones have moved away, or are too busy to attend.
We also have a family cemetery, the Whitecloud Cemetery. Even though it has been years since anyone was buried there, at our family reunion each year we see to it that someone has been appointed to mow and maintain it, and is reimbursed partially for their fuel. Our family has chosen to try and preserve some of our past.
Many a time, if we are in Nodaway County with my dad, we will drive through the county and my dad will point out various farms and houses with comments-I lived there, that was the Todd place, my dad farmed here and we used our mules to farm, this is where I lived while I went to high school, this is where my momma would sell her chickens each spring, this is where Charlie’s house was, this is where we would go to butcher hogs and the entire family would come and make a day of it….
But, how do we get the younger ones involved and interested? I have, as part of our homeschooling gotten my daughters to do a bit of genealogy. My 13 year old even took it a step further and made a 4H project with it, for a self-determined project, and it earned her a leadership award.
But, I fear family reunions are becoming a thing of the past. I have heard many people say, “We used to have them”. Why did they quit?
I would like to challenge all of my readers and followers to write down some of the stories, or start a photo collection or a scrapbook of your family. If you know the past, include it. If you don’t know your family past, start with your own life. Create something that can be added to by your children and passed down for generations. Include the hardships that show how you made it to where you are. Include favorite recipes (Yesterday I got my Aunt Leola’s pie crust recipe), photos, event programs, fair ribbons, tell stories of your first job, of learning to ride a bike, your favorite birthday, of your school days... Pass it down for the future generations to enjoy and learn from.