Large families have, as a matter of course, a wide range of ages in the children. The elder children are often married when the youngest ones are just little or sometimes not even born yet. Then their children come along and they end up playing with their aunts and uncles as often as not. They become almost like sisters and brothers. That was the case for my cousin Susie, who often played with her aunts, Bonnie, Dixie, and Sandy. She had automatic friends. From having lunch together, to playing house, their time together was filled with fun.

Aunt Sandy, who is the youngest of my mom’s siblings, tells me that she doesn’t remember a time when her brothers-in-law and sister-in-law weren’t in her life. I doubt if she remembers a time without nieces or nephews either. I’m sure she also helped in holding the babies when they were little too. Young aunts can make the best babysitters, when they are old enough to be a help, that is. Girls usually love to sit and hold those babies, but then who doesn’t.

In looking at this picture, I can see a camaraderie between these four girls that is very obvious. When I was a kid, all my aunts and uncles were grown ups, so I never experienced that myself. I’ve often wondered just how it would feel to hang out with my aunts and uncles as kids. I know that my aunts and uncles were quite a crew. It seems from the stories my mom has told me that they were always having some great adventure. I’m sure too, that my grandmother had to stay on her toes, because as with Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, quite often, those adventures got the kids in a bit of trouble with their parents, but then, what’s the fun in adventure if it doesn’t result in one fix or another. Of course, I’m sure my grandmother would disagree.

Our family enjoys spending time together, but I think very possibly Aunt Bonnie, Aunt Dixie, Aunt Sandy, and Susie have a relationship that is just a little bit closer than most, because it began when they were so very young. It made them almost like sisters, and as most of us know, sisters are forever friends.

Last Sunday was my mom’s family’s annual picnic. We have been having these picnics, as well as the annual Christmas party, every year for decades now. We do this as a way to re-connect with family that we don’t get to see very often. It was my grandparents’ wish that we not drift apart when they were gone, and we have worked to do this for them, as well as for all of us. These days it is so easy to lose touch with family, and more and more I find that I don’t want that to be our family’s future. So many people know their aunts, uncles, and cousins, but when it comes to their cousins children and their children, well they hardly know them. I have had the distinct pleasure of getting to know those young people in our family through Facebook friendships, and I want all of you to know that is has been a wonderful experience to get to know each of you. We have a wonderful family, with so many varied ideas and talents, and to miss out on all that…well, it would be a great loss.

I think this year’s attendance was a little better than last year’s, and I think that is due to Facebook. It was a great way to announce the plan to all the family, and get everyone talking about it excitedly. It was fun to see how much the little ones had grown and to see everyone just enjoying the day, which ended up being a little cooler than the heat wave we had been having.

My cousin, Michael had said that we needed to get together for something besides a funeral, since we had 2 within the last year. I agree, and I wish he had been able to be there. Sadly a couple of the regular attendees, Uncle Larry and Uncle Jack left us this year, and their presence was very much missed at this year’s picnic, but I was glad to see Aunt Jeanette and Aunt Bonnie there, and doing ok. As more and more of my aunts and uncles leave us, we will look back on these gatherings with the fondest of memories.

The annual picnic was a wonderful success, as it always is, and I always find myself sorry when it is over. This year, however, I think it will be better, because I am in closer touch with so many of my cousins and their families. I look forward to getting to know each of you better, and hearing about all your little family stories. And who knows, you might find yourself in one of my stories, because…when it comes to my stories, no one is exempt where a story exists.

One of the fun things to do at the fair, and many of the tourist towns, like Keystone or Deadwood, South Dakota is the old time photo. Even if you are not a fan of western movies, somehow when you get to a tourist town, those old time photos look like a lot of fun. And they are a lot of fun. When you look at the goofy poses and the funny faces, as people try to create a possible scenario that might have been common to the Old West, you find yourself laughing instinctively.

I guess it’s a way to move outside yourself, and step into someone else’s shoes for a few minutes. Maybe see what life was like in a different time, and being someone that we would never have been. A little bit of make believe can be a lot of fun, and of course, you need the picture for the memories that go along with all the fun.

These pictures have been around a while…probably as long as cameras have been around. In fact, I have come across some old pictures of staged hold ups that were taken, not by a photographer, but by an individual. The people in the pictures are having such a good time that they are having a hard time not laughing about the picture as it is being taken. I found those to be especially funny.

I used to think that these pictures were more of a modern day phenomena, but after finding these new pictures, I realized that the old time photos has been going on for a long time, and even in the early 1900’s people enjoyed making their own western pictures…creating their own memories of the past as they pictured it…passing on a little humor. We all like a few moments where we can escape reality and pretend we are in a different time and place. Kind of fun, when you think about it.

Even my grandmother and her sisters and brother had an old time photo done. It was one of the more different ones I had ever seen, but it was really cool to see all of them dressed up and putting on an act. I guess it was something I never expected them to do…oddly. I loved the picture. It was like seeing them in a new light, and one I found very interesting…and pretty enlightening. A lot can be learned from the fun of have an old time photo taken, I guess.

In big families, the younger children have the potential to become aunts and uncles at an early age. This can happen in families where there are a number of years between the children too. Sometimes, in fact, children can be born as aunts and uncles, which I suppose could be even more strange to think about. My younger sisters were were already old hands at being aunts at the time my girls were born, as my older sister had 3 children by that time. My youngest sister, Allyn became an aunt when she was the ripe old age of 8 years, in 1971, and so had been an aunt for 4 years by the time Corrie was born in 1975.

My in-laws basically had 3 separate families, since there were 7 years between Bob and his sister Jennifer, and another 5 between his youngest sister, Brenda and his brother, Ron. Ron was a whopping 7 years old when he first became and uncle. And my daughter, Amy’s youngest brother-in-law was 3 when he became uncle to her daughter, Shai. These kids grew up almost more like cousins or brothers and sisters than uncles to their nieces.They pretty much don’t remember a time where they weren’t uncles.

My father-in-law’s sister Marian had 8 children, and her youngest son is younger than his nephew, her daughter Kathy’s son. I’m sure that would be odd to think about, if it weren’t just the way it was. I suppose when you are born an uncle or aunt, it never occurs to you that you might be a bit different from your friends, who like my daughters became aunts when they were both married adults.

I’m quite certain that most people just think, “Well, that is the way it is.” And they would be right. You can’t control when you become an aunt or uncle. That is simply not your choice to make. And to most people it is an exciting and joyful time in their lives. But, that is not always the case. Bob’s Aunt Linda was quite a bit younger than my mother-in-law. Fifteen years, in fact. And my mother-in-law would marry my father-in-law just 2 1/2 years after Linda was born. When my sister-in-law, Marlyce came along 13 months after their marriage, Linda was just 3 1/2 years old. She was just getting to an age where she knew what she wanted and what she did not want. When they came to Linda and told her that she was an aunt, Linda immediately started crying. They were shocked by such a reaction, and when they asked her what was wrong, she said, through her tears, “I don’t want to be one of those ant guys!!!” Poor little thing thought she was going to turn into a bug!

I was thinking about something my Aunt Sandy said to me a while back about talking to my mom about the old stories before it is too late…before she forgets them, or before she were to go home to be with the Lord. Then I was listening to some tapes by Jesse Duplantis, while on a long drive to and from Denver for a class these past couple of days. Jesse Duplantis talks about a minister, or evangelist being a gift from God placed in your life to be a blessing…to get God’s word out to you. That got me thinking abut the other gifts in our lives…our parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

Early in our lives these people nurture us, teach us how to grow up, take care of our physical needs, and our emotional needs. They might babysit us, or later, let us spend the night. They are role models for us, to teach us right from wrong, and social etiquette. We learn our early sense of style from them…at least until we are old enough to want our own style. We get our early religious training from them, whether it is to go to church or not, it usually comes from the adults around us. There are so many characteristics, that can be traced back for our parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

They do all these things for us and yet all too often we think of them as outdated, behind the times…especially in technological matters, annoying, interfering, and…well, anything but a gift. And yet, that is exactly what they are, and we get to have them for a very short time…too short. Just ask anyone who has lost their parent or parents, and see how they feel about them now. Do they regret that they didn’t spend enough time with them? Yes, because no matter how much time you spent, it wasn’t enough. If I could spend one more day with my Dad, would I do it? Absolutely, and I would treasure it…you have no idea how much I would treasure it, but I can’t. That gift is no longer here, but sometimes in thinking about the gift I have lost, I forget to see the gifts that are still in front of me. Sometimes, I see them as more of a job than a gift. Most of you know that I am a caregiver for my mom and my mother and father-in-law. Sometimes, I let myself lose site of the purpose of that caregiving…which is to keep the gifts in my life, in my life for a little longer. Do yourself a favor, and see the gifts in your life…cherish them…and as my Aunt Sandy would tell you talk to them about all the stories of their past…your heritage, that only they can tell you, and once they are gone, the stories are gone too. Whatever you do in life…cherish the gifts you have been given.

My mom’s mother was a short little lady of about 5′ (in her tall days), but she was as feisty as she could be, and definitely the boss of her nine children. She never had a drivers license, and never wanted to. She simply wanted to be wife to my grandpa and mama to her kids. I remember spending time at her house. There was always something to do. I suppose that was because with nine children there were a lot of grandchildren…30 to be exact. We had a wonderful time.

My story is not really about the grandchildren, however. As I said, Grandma was small, but mighty, and her kids knew who ruled the roost. If you chose to get out of line, it didn’t matter if you towered over her or not, you were in trouble!! Such was the case one day when my mom was 8 years old or so. My grandmother was in the middle of giving my Uncle Larry a spanking for something he did. My mother doesn’t even remember what he had done, and that isn’t surprising. Mom decided that Grandma was completely in the wrong for spanking Uncle Larry, and she proceeded to let her know it…in no uncertain terms. The spanking continued for a minute or so, with my mom just telling Grandma off. Grandma never said a word. She just finished my uncle’s punishment, and turned him loose. He headed out the door as fast as he could go, just in case she changed her mind. My mom started out the door after him with the intention of offering consolation, but Grandma had other plans. She reached out and grabbed my mom by the hair and turned her over her knee and gave her a good spanking. When she was done, she simply said, “There…how do you like that?” Well, I’m sure you can guess the answer to that question. My aunts and uncles were, from that day forward, on their own when it came to punishment, because my mom was no longer the defender of her siblings, when it came to their mom.

As the years go by and children grow, those spankings get fewer and farther in between, until you no longer need that form of discipline with your kids. They can look back on those days in their youth and laugh, since the sting on those spankings is only a memory. One day, some of the kids and Grandma were talking and laughing about those old memories. My Aunt Bonnie, who was standing beside my grandmother, and still laughing about those old days, said to Grandma, “Well, those days are gone forever, because you couldn’t take us now.” And in true Grandma Style, my grandmother didn’t say a word…she simply reached out and grabbed my Aunt Bonnie around the ankles and swept her off her feet and onto the floor. To a very shocked Aunt Bonnie, she said “There…how do you like that?”

Yesterday I wrote about the antics of my dad and my uncle, and after reading that story, my cousin, Tim and I spoke about some of the stories we knew about my aunts, one of whom is his grandmother, Laura. After hearing the things he told me, I feel like I know a lot more about my aunts, and I am very proud of both.

My aunts, uncle and my dad were young when our country was in the grip of World War II, and being patriotic people who wanted to help in any way they could, my aunts decided to join the mobilization effort by signing up for jobs in the shipyards in Superior, Wisconsin. Feelings were very raw at that time because people felt betrayed by the administration…betrayed and unprotected. But feelings aside, they stepped up and took on a man sized job. My aunts worked in those shipyards as welders on the ships. It was in the dead of winter, and the winters in Superior are bitterly cold. They feared for their health, and it was due to those frigid winter days, that they both decided that Wisconsin was not where they would want to spend their lives. Both would move to Washington state, and Aunt Laura would finally end up in Oregon. She would later say living out there was like living in the tropics by comparison. Eventually a sign was posted to commend the work of the many women who joined that movement, but they erred in calling them “Riveters” because they did not rivet the ships, they welded them, and that was a much harder job. Our Uncle Bill hated that error, and tried to get the sign changed, and after failing to get anyone to move on the correction, corrected it himself, because he has always paid close attention to detail and hates seeing an error go uncorrected, especially such an important historic event as the women of World War II who were heros in every sense of the word.

This is a part of my aunts lives that I had no idea had occured, and I truly thank my cousin Tim for sharing it. You see, this picture of my aunts is very foreign to me. My Aunt Laura was always an elegant lady, with a beautiful home, which I can still see in my mind to this day. She had so many beautiful and I’m sure precious things. My Aunt Ruth was a little more of a tomboyish person who liked the outdoors, but a welder…no…I could never have pictured it in either of them. They were two women, in a difficult time, who stepped up and did more than they knew they could. And I am very proud of both of them.

I did get a small glimpse of that toughness in my Aunt Laura one time, when she had just purchased a mobile home and while it was set up that Friday night long ago, the electricity would not be turned on until the next morning, and it was a bitterly cold winter night here. I insisted that she come and stay at my house that night, which she graciously accepted. Bob was working nights, so we had a little slumber party at my house…just us girls. We had such a wonderful time, and my Aunt Laura got to experience something that she really never would any other time in her life…little girls. You see she had sons, grandsons, and a great grandson…no girls. She had a great time with my daughters, and they thoroughly enjoyed playing with her. It was a treat for all of us, and a night I will always treasure.

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