Family Reunion 2005
Every year, on the Memorial Day weekend, we hold a family reunion. It?s my father?s family. His generation, the fifth since we came to this continent, had fifteen children. You can imagine that it is quite a feat to get all of them and their children, and grand children, and great grand children, et cetera all to one location at the same time.
So I took off a little early from work so I could start my long drive to Arkansas from Iowa. The drive isn?t as bad as it used to be. The Avenue of the Saints road project has made the trail from here to St. Louis almost entirely four lane highway with high speed limits. The northern-most section of US 61 in Missouri is still a windy, narrow, little thing with almost no passing. Other than that, it?s pretty smooth sailing.
South of St Louis is Interstate 55. This is a major thoroughfare for persons running north and south along the Mississippi River Corridor. The speed limit is 70 miles per hour. If you go that speed limit, everyone will fly past you as though you were moving backward.
I gas up my car before leaving and then again in Hannibal, Missouri, and a final time in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The idea is to avoid stopping in St. Louis. You see, I?m not a city sort of person. Just dealing with the traffic on I-270 to go around St Louis is bad enough. With the rain this time, I made it through at less than 45 miles per hour, sometimes coming to a complete stop. None of that was my preference, mind you, but when all the traffic on the interstate highway comes to a stop, you have to stop as well.
With my back muscles all knotted, I made it out of St Louis and made my way south. I arrived at my father?s house around ten-thirty that night.
The trip back started Monday morning at five-thirty. I gassed up in Blytheville, Arkansas so I could make it to Cape Girardeau and start avoiding St Louis again. The road was filled with slow moving vehicles. I was traveling the posted 70 but was still passing driver after driver. Not once did I pass anyone going faster than me.
The worst scenario, repeated time after time, involved cars going ten miles per hour below the speed limit being passed by cars going nine and a half miles per hour below. By the time I caught up to each of these little dances there would already be a line of cars patiently waiting for the slow car to pass the slower car. Naturally, all these cars ahead of me would accelerate so they could pass the slower vehicles. Of course, they only accelerated to eight miles per hour below.
As I cruised up US 61, I approached the area where it squeezed back together to a two lane road. That?s that narrow, windy bit I mentioned earlier. Ahead, in the two lane section, they appeared. I watched in horror as two motor homes, one after the other, lumbered onto the highway. The second one towed a large pick-up truck behind it. There was no way these behemoths would travel at the speed limit. I would be stuck.
Eventually, I made my way sufficiently north to be on Highway 218 and that meant I was back in Eastern Iowa. I was almost home.
Unfortunately, I had not eaten since five-thirty in the morning. Hunger asserted itself, so I stopped at the A & W restaurant at the Riverside exit. (Star Trek fans will remember that Riverside, Iowa is the birth place of Captain James Tiberius Kirk.) I?m very fond of the A & W. They have great root beer, cr?me soda, and make the best root beer floats I?ve ever tasted. There?s a reason why there are still A & W restaurants in the area but we don?t see anymore Dog & Suds.
Anyway, with my sodium restrictions, I don?t usually eat hot dogs. As a primitive carnivore, I enjoy the stray meat bits one gets in hot dogs that one simply can?t get in the modern dining experience. The local A & W, over on Ellis Boulevard, makes a great hot dog. On the rare occasion that I have one, I will order a simple hot dog with cheese. They deliver a simple hot dog with a small strip of American cheese. It is very delicious.
Thinking that I had eaten little and could be a little liberal with my sodium, I stopped at the Riverside Exit A & W. I ordered a hot dog with cheese and a root beer float to go. I got my order and got back on the road, anxious to get home. (For those of you concerned about safety, I used to drive as part of my work. I became very skilled at eating and driving. When the choice came to react to a driving circumstance or maintain my food, I?ve been know to just drop food in favor of safety.)
I was very annoyed to open the little Styrofoam hot dog coffin to find the poor thing completely drowned in a cheese sauce. That?s right; it was not a hot dog with cheese. It was cheese with hot dog. That really ticked me off. The typical cheese sauce in a fast food restaurant tastes like crap and has more sodium than a salt lick.
Carefully lifting a cheese-less bit of the hot dog and propping it against the edge of the container allowed most of the sauce to run off. If not for my strong hunger, I wouldn?t have eaten it. It was salty. I don?t think I?ll stop there again.
So, nine hours after leaving my father?s house, I was back to my own home. That?s when the phone calls began. Everybody wanted me to come socialize. It was a fun but exhausting evening.
Yes, there was more to the trip than just the driving and salty food.
My father was ill a month ago. It was good to see that he?s much better now. Many of his siblings are also getting up there in years and need more medical treatment. It?s a little sad to see them wear down.
In my youth, they were towering gods with fierce eyes and broad grins. Their soft, growly voices broke regularly into loud guffaws. They were solid and strong.
Now, they are a bit weathered and grey. I?m taller than most of them. I have less hair. They are still stronger, and more grizzled than I will ever be. They are good people.
There is something really good about being around them. You see, they talk among themselves. This is good because they remember stories from their childhoods that they would never tell us kids. We get to hear about things that they did way back then. Those are the good stories.
The bad news is: I?m not telling any of those stories.
I have good reasons for not telling the stories of my father?s folks. First of all, I?m not sure of the statute of limitations on some of them. Second, I feel ok telling my secrets, but I?m not at liberty to tell the secrets of others. Also, some of the stories are pretty good and I may want to steal the plot for some future piece of fiction. The main reason for not passing along my family?s stories is that my family is sacred.
I keep my family?s stories as best I can. Someday I will pass these tales along to my offspring. The history will live on through the generations. The same way I can tell the Story of Deter Ferris and the Frenchman, my grandchildren will tell of ***** and the Used Car Switch. My descendents will know from whence they came and the strength they carry within them.
Anyway, that?s my family reunion story for this year. Next year I will go to another one. I already contributed my deuce toward the expenses of the reunion two years from now. For as long as there are Trapps to gather in Harrisburg, Arkansas (where my grand parents are buried) I will attend the gathering.