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Archive for May 31st, 2008

I was first introduced to the concept of “swimming” when I was just a wee little one.  Here’s a bathing suit, there’s the water, stick your feet in.  Something like that.  As a young child I had various experiences with water.  I had a small, child’s pool that during the summer Mom and Dad filled up with water.  She’d put my hair up in pin curls so it wouldn’t get wet.  My hair was so curly and unmanageable that she’d do anything to keep it from getting wet and frizzy.  There was also hotel swimming pools as Mom and Dad traveled a lot before I started school and we were always staying at hotels with pools.  Then there was the lake in Michigan.  My uncle (Glen Johnson, Jr.) lived in the old Kellogg mansion off Lake Goguac.  Every summer we would visit my aunt and uncle I would want to go “swimming”.  My excitement always faded with those first steps into that lake.  I wasn’t thrilled to feel the sand and muck on my bare feet.  I especially didn’t like it when fish swam by.

 

I was about six when my parents decided to put in a backyard swimming pool.  A genuine pool!  Below ground, 17×36 with a shallow end of 3 feet and a deep end of 8 feet, including a diving board.  Wow!  I remember that it seemed to take forever for them to dig the pool, shape it out, put in the metal frame, line it with a vinyl liner, and get the walkway poured and tiled.  Then an 8 foot chain link fence was erected around the whole thing to which my parents put out a call to family members.  Whoever wanted to swim in the pool needed to come and help finish everything.  We had quite a few family members show up to help!  We put slats in the chain link fence which made it very hard for the neighbors to peer into our pool area.  We had a gate with a lock so no one could help themselves to a swim.  Finally it was finished.  But it wasn’t warm enough yet to try.  Then I came home from school one day in April and my parents asked me if I wanted to swim.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!  The water was cold – barely warm enough to stay in for any length of time.

 

That first summer my parents tried to teach me to swim or at least learn how to hold my breath to go under water.  No dice!  No one was going to hold me on my stomach while I tried to perfect the technique of swimming.  It wasn’t until a neighbor boy was over and showed me that he could swim.  No boy was going to show me up!  From that moment on, I swam!  I jumped into the deep end from the diving board and used the side of the pool to learn to dive.  I was in that pool every moment possible!  A couple years later I became part of the “Flying Fish” swim team at the base.  I spent a couple afternoons a week learning new techniques – the butterfly stroke, the breast stroke, swimming backwards, dog paddling, swimming underwater and for my first race I had to use the butterfly stroke.  Swimming was my life and I was good at it!

 

The pool became “the” place for family and friend gatherings.  Sometimes we found out just who our real friends were.  Did they want to visit with us or did they just want to swim in the pool?  My parents hosted family reunions that always involved swimming or being out by the pool.  I stayed so tan that my bronze glow didn’t dim even during the long winter months in Ohio.  As I grew older, I learned how to skim the water for leaves and other stuff, test the pH and chemical levels, and tried to learn how to actually clean and backwash the pool to keep the filter running smoothly.  So it came as a great disappointment when we had to move when I was 15.  The house, the half acre lot, the pool – all of it was becoming way too expensive for my divorced mother to keep up with.  I’m sure she was also thinking of a time down the road when I’d leave home and then there wouldn’t be anyone to help her mow the grass, do the housework, or take care of the pool.  Unfortunately my swimming suffered as well.  Spoiled as I was by having a backyard pool that I didn’t have to share with anyone I didn’t want to share it with, I decline invitations to the community pools.  People there just want to sit, splash and play.  I want to swim and dive.  I don’t want to see other people in their bathing suits (or lack of them).  In a way child hood with its lack of worries and woes, ended when we moved from that house. 

 

Picture 1: Backyard Pool; Picture 2: Dad and I in the pool; Picture 3: Family Reunion – my nephew (in life vest), Aunt Margaret, friend Nancy, and me (chasing beach ball).

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The summer months signal the end of the school year, the smell of chlorine as we spend time at our backyard or community pools, the sound of ice cubes melting in the tall glasses of water or iced tea, and the call of our nomadic beginnings as we think about travel plans.

Many families will travel from several locations to the “old homestead” or a centralized location for the annual Family Reunion.  Fundraisers may have been held to help pay for the festivities.  Extra hours worked for the overtime pay in order to purchase the airline or bus tickets or to put that (high priced) gas in the tanks of vehicles.  Invitations via email or internet message boards have been sent or posted and replies received.  Luggage will be packed and travel “entertainment” chosen for the young ones.  Genealogy information has been downloaded, compiled and printed out to be shared.  Photo CDs have been copied for those who have requested them.  The agenda for the reunion has been planned – probably a catered meal or pot luck; games to enjoy; a side trip to the cemetery, homestead or Civil War Battlefield; and the business meeting – how much in the reunion treasury, recording of the births, marriages, divorces, and deaths of the past year, a formal portrait of the participants, the planning of the date and place for the next reunion; and then the good-byes.

For those who have never attended a family reunion or can’t understand why anyone would care who their third cousin twice removed is, this is a mystery they really can’t fathom.  For those who have enjoyed or endured at least one family reunion, there was at least one thing that happened that has stuck with them.  Possibly it was trying to hide from a cousin who always has picked on you or being excited to see your favorite aunt.  Maybe there was a terrible storm and rained everyone out of the picnic area.  Or you collected recipes of dishes you’ve been dying to have.  Or you discovered other relatives have the same interests you do and now live close to you.  There is something for everyone.

My experience with reunions was (as the Carpenter’s song goes) Long Ago and Far Away.  As a child I attended at least four reunions a year.  One was a reunion of my dad’s siblings (the descendents of Lloyd and Ella Amore).  We would meet at one of the brother’s or sister’s home for a weekend of food, fun, laughter, drinking (if you were of legal age), poker, singing (courtesy of two of my cousins), puppet shows (courtesy of my Aunt Marie), and arguing from someone!  I remember reunions at my Uncle Paul’s and Uncle Gail’s (both in Detroit), my Aunt Gertie’s (in Zanesville, Ohio), my Uncle Norman’s (in Chicago), and my childhood home in Beavercreek, Ohio.  One of my dad’s brothers, Bervil, made it to (I think) one of the reunions but generally just stayed away.  Most of the pictures I have of the siblings don’t include him – so instead of seven there is only six.  One other thing I remember very clearly was there was a scrapbook or photo book that everyone spent time looking at and reminiscing about.  I don’t remember any pictures that were in that book – I do have photos of people looking at it.  I believe my cousin has that book and unfortunately no one has been able to obtain the rights to even look at it in the last 35+ years. 

The second reunion was the Amore-Baker reunion (formerly Amore-Wertz) reunion.  These were the descendents of Henry and Annie Amore and their daughter Clemmie and her husband Benjamin Baker.  We would meet every August at the Coshocton Fairgrounds at the Grange for a day or eating, meeting, and playing.  I remember one year (one of the last I attended before my parents’ divorce), I was enthralled watching some other girls about my age playing across the way.  I asked my mom if I could go play with them and she told me they were related to me.  Unfortunatley I don’t remember their names or who they “belonged” to.  They were part of my great-aunt’s clan of Bakers.  I thought it was sad that our two halves of the family never ate together or met together.  We were just sort of at the same spot.

The third reunion I attended was my Grandmother’s family.  This was the Wilt Reunion and we would travel from our home in Southwestern Ohio across the Indiana border to Noblesville.  It was at the same place every year except the last few I heard about.  Up the hill was an elementary school with a playground.  That’s normally where I would spend most of my day instead of listening to the business meetings or folks trying to “entertain” everyone with their singing or joke telling.  As a child, I wasn’t much interested in how anyone was related to anyone else.  I knew who my first cousins were and I even knew who my mother’s first cousins were and who my grandmother’s siblings were.  The rest of them sort of got lost in the crowd.  One year the Wilt reunion was held at my Grandparent’s apartment party room and pool area.  I wasn’t able to attend as I was already living far from home.  Another year it was held at my brother’s home.  I showed up pregnant with my second child which no one had heard about yet.  I just remember that my mother didn’t attend that year.

The fourth reunion I attended was as an older child and teen.  It was my grandfather’s maternal side – the Johnson – Blazer reunion.  My great-grandmother – who I wrote about in Katie’s Story - was Katie J. Blazer.  We met at the Glen Blazer home in Urbana, Ohio or at our home in Beavercreek.  Glen was the son of Katie’s brother – making him my grandfather’s first cousin.  He and his sister, Ada, were the last of my grandfather’s first cousins, whom my grandfather knew about, who were around.

The last reunion I attended was a Cousin’s Reunion designated as such for we are all cousins and descendents of my maternal grandparents, Glen and Vesta (Wilt) Johnson.  We met the summer following my brother’s death at my first cousin’s home in Ohio.  Three of us who live in other states (my sister and I and the daughter of a cousin) were the only “out of towner’s” to attend.  Two other cousins and their scattered children were unfortunately not able to attend.  Needless to say we didn’t have a business meeting or any agenda to decide how often we wanted to “reunite”.  Several of us started the day out by caravaning to the cemetery where our grandparents and my mom’s baby sister are buried and to the cemetery where my aunt and her husband are buried.  We took dozens of pictures and ate a lot of good food.  There were eight of us “first cousins” and now that my brother is gone, there is seven.  The last time all eight of us were together was my grandparents’ 50th anniversary in 1966 at their home in Kettering, Ohio.  Since then, at least one of us haven’t been able to attend an event.

This year, as you prepare or plan for the big reunion or family event, make sure you make your list of what you want to get out of it.  Do you want to digitally record each family member sharing a story or a memory?  Do you want photos of the whole gang or just the principal family members or the patriarch/matriarch with separate families?  Do you want to share family history research?  Visit a prominent spot of your family history or ancestory?  Then how do you stay in touch the rest of the year? 

Family reunions are important.  It’s a way to connect and actually meet those who share the same ancestors.  However, what’s most important is how do we keep those connections?  We can cultivate them through frequent phone calls, individual visits, or email/snail mail.  One reason is because – someday that family photo book may belong to the individual who has felt “outcast” from the family and you may never see it again!

(Pictures: Top – My dad & his siblings minus my Uncle Bervil; Detroit 1967; Bottom – Amore Sibling Reunion at my house with most everyone in the picture).

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