As our regular readers know, I’m moving to China in five days. Because I’ll be gone for at least two years, this weekend has been one of nearly constant goodbyes for me. None of these are easy, but some are especially difficult because I am saying what may be a final farewell to elderly and/or ailing family members who might not be here when I return. The time with them is precious. In the midst of all these goodbyes, there have been wonderful conversations. In my family, those conversations soon turn into family stories. Maybe that’s where I get my own knack for story-telling — some of my family’s stories are better than fiction!
Floods, Outlaws, and Indians
On Friday, my dad and I had lunch with my Uncle Melvin and his wife Dorothy. Uncle Melvin is actually my great uncle (he’s my father’s uncle on his mother’s side). He’s eighty-four, and is one of the greatest men I’ve ever known. He served with the Marines in China in World War II, and still remembers it all as if it were yesterday. Uncle Melvin only has one hand, because he lost his right hand in a farming accident with a corn thresher years ago. He easily gets by without it. He was born in Missouri in 1927, and he lived through the great flood of 1937. Uncle Melvin told us about how he, his father, and his older brother Emberson (we have some unique names sprinkled throughout our family) spent the hours before the flood piling all that they owned up on tables and other furniture to save it from the coming flood. They didn’t have things like cabinets, so everything usually stayed on the floor. When the waters spilled into the log cabin they lived in, which they had built themselves, most of their possessions survived. The dirt floor, naturally, suffered a bit.
Uncle Melvin also talked about his grandfather, who lived in Illinois at the time of the Civil War. He and his brothers wanted more than anything to fight, but they wanted to fight for the Confederacy, something which was a bit of a no-no in a northern state. So, Great-Great Grandpa and his brothers traveled down to Missouri. Unfortunately, Missouri was where a lot of tough outlaws had wound up, so they spent their time fighting such outlaws as the James brothers before they could make it to a recruitment location. By the time they made it there, they had spent so much time fighting outlaws that the war was now over! Great-Great Grandpa then learned that his wife, whom he had left behind in Illinois, had passed away (she was actually his second wife — no one knows what became of the first). He decided to have a bit more adventure and traveled all the way out to Oklahoma territory, where he married a Cherokee girl, who had traveled out there on the Trail of Tears. Between his three wives, he had a total of twenty-one children, including my great grandfather, Baker Barnes.
Oops, Wrong Bride!
Yesterday, my parents, my sister, my niece, and I drove down to Shipshewana, Indiana, an adorable town in the center of Amish country, where we met up with two of my dad’s brothers, their spouses, and two of my cousins for a wonderful dinner at the Blue Gate Inn, one of the best restaurants around. One of my dad’s brothers, Clyde, is a warm-hearted pastor with a tendency to be forgetful at times. One of my favorite stories about him is about when he officiated at the third marriage of his and Dad’s oldest brother, Vern. Uncle Vern’s second wife was named Shirley, and she was quite well-loved by the family. When Uncle Clyde was conducting the ceremony marrying Uncle Vern to wife number three, Sheila, he accidentally called her Shirley . . . three times. At Uncle Vern’s funeral a few years ago, Uncle Clyde delivered the eulogy and shared this story. Unfortunately, he got Aunt Sheila and Aunt Shirley’s names mixed up in the eulogy, too! (Click here if you’d like to read the full story of Uncle Vern’s hilarious funeral)
Driving to Impress Girls
Dad loves to tell a story about a red convertible he used to own in the days before he met Mom. He loved that car. One day, he and Uncle Clyde were out driving when they saw two pretty girls in another car. Wanting to make an impression, Dad decided to flirt by speeding up and racing the girls from the lane next to them. However, Dad miscalculated how close the semi truck ahead of him was, and he wound up doing an odd sideways sliding maneuver that ended with him in front of the truck and facing it. The driver of the big rig was smoking a large cigar. He was so startled to see the little car seemingly coming from nowhere and ending up in front of him and facing him, that he dropped his cigar out of his mouth and into his lap! I wish I could say that my father’s driving has since improved, but . . . no, I really can’t say that it has. He narrowly avoided three accidents yesterday alone!
How Betting and Gone with the Wind Resulted (Eventually) in Stephanie
How Mom and Dad met and wound up married is a great story, too. When my mom was eighteen, she made a bet with her older brother Andy. If she lost the bet, she would have to go out on a blind double date with the older brother of Uncle Andy’s current girlfriend (he went through a lot of girlfriends back then . . . come to think of it, he still does). Needless to say, Mom lost the bet. Uncle Andy told her all about what a dull guy he was setting her up with: a tightwad who seldom talked, and who could never get girls to date him. Mom gritted her teeth and went out on the date, prepared for the worst. However, Uncle Andy had, as usual, completely deviated from the truth. Mom had a wonderful sledding date with a talkative, friendly man who bought multiple rounds of hot chocolate for everybody. She readily agreed to a second date.
On their third date, Dad took Mom to see the re-release of Gone with the Wind. On the way back from the theater, swept away by the romance of the movie, they started talking about where each would like to go someday on a honeymoon. Dad said he intended to take his bride to Hawaii. Mom told him she’d have to marry him then, because she wanted more than anything to go there. Dad accidentally blurted out, “Well, will you marry me?” Without thinking, Mom accidentally said yes. Dad promptly kissed her for the first time, then drove through a red light and slammed on his brakes at a green light. Mom feared that she may not live to survive the night! When they got back to her house, Dad kissed her goodnight and wound up getting bit in the backside by the family dog, King. The lovebirds were off to an interesting start.
Although Mom kept meaning to tell Dad that she hadn’t meant to say yes, she somehow never got around to it. On their wedding day eight months later, she realized that she had found The One. Forty-three years later, the two of them often resemble Frank and Marie from Everybody Loves Raymond, but with the major difference that the two of them are still honeymooners at heart. They’re kinda cute to watch sometimes.
Where does Stephanie fit into this story? Well, nine months after Mom and Dad’s sixteenth wedding anniversary, Mom gave birth to a little girl who was either a miracle or God’s judgement upon mankind (it depends upon which relative you ask).
Ever in My Heart
A lot of family stories have been pouring out this weekend, and there will be even more of them today, when Mom’s side of the family gathers to bid me adieu. They’re a crazy, loud bunch, the result of mixing German ancestry with lots of Irish and some pure Redneck, and their stories are just as colorful as they are. Today, I’m quite certain that Aunt Linda, Aunt Diane, and Mom will all start sharing about sins I committed back in my diaper days, and they’ll work their way up to the time that I rode my tricycle into the swimming pool, or the time that I tried to fly with an umbrella by jumping out of the treehouse, or the one about my fighting a raccoon with a pitchfork when I was five (it survived, so Mom shot it later), or the charming story of the portuguese-man-o-war attacking me when I was a freshman in college. Perhaps we’ll reminisce about the time we went out to eat at a Mexican restaurant and the woman two tables away got a Japanese beetle stuck in her ear (Mom, being a nurse, stopped the woman’s husband from using a fork to get it out and saved the day — and, likely, the woman’s eardrum). Maybe we’ll laugh about how Mom stuffed used tissues in Aunt Diane’s shoe at their father’s funeral (my family
does not always usually doesn’t behave with proper decorum). Aunt Diane complained weeks later about her shoe fitting poorly, at which point she discovered Mom’s little caper. Whatever stories do come up will definitely be uniquely seasoned with our special blend of family insanity, and I’ll carry the laughter all the way to China with me.
Thanks for indulging me on this little jog down memory lane. Maybe it’s time you got in touch with a few relatives of your own and let the stories come pouring out. Don’t wait for too long — memories live much longer than people do.