Thursday, October 14, 2010
This scene holds the memories of decades for me. I took the picture this summer from my cousin Steve's front yard, across from the entrance to the Freeborn County Fair. We made almost annual trips to the fair when I was growing up. Back then, the parking lot was right by my Uncle Richard and Aunt Rhoda's house. I would stay with them every other summer to be with their daughter, Judy, who was my age.
Technically, Richard and Rhoda are not my aunt and uncle. They are my second cousins once removed or something like that. Richard is my mom's cousin but since there were only 7 cousins in their family and everyone lived pretty close to the homestead, their traditions of Sundays at grandma's grew into all-inclusive family get-togethers long after grandpa and grandma were gone.
Parking cars at the fair was an exciting annual event. I thought my relatives were very important because they ran that lot directly across from the fair entrance. I would go into the fair with my head held a little higher because I belonged with those people. I was surprised, this year, to learn that the empty lot is still there (surrounded now by a neighborhood of houses) and it's still run by the family. My cousin Steve is now in charge of the business.
As was common when I was a kid, family members showed up to help or just sit and visit. I couldn't resist reliving my younger days when I saw this group circled up in the shade of the garage. I walked around the circle shaking hands and saying, "I'm Cindy, I'm Jean's daughter". It was our typical introduction to the great aunts and uncles gathered at the family reunions who couldn't keep the names and faces straight in the family's fourth generation (the first being 'grandpa and grandma' the Norweigan immigrants Hans and Julia--my great-grandparents).
Joining us at Steve's were his parents, my Uncle Roger and Aunt Shirley (complete with her money apron), my cousins Karen and Mark, and their respective families. Roger and Shirley really are my aunt and uncle, Shirley being my mom's sister. Shirley told me that she remembered working the fair lot when she was under ten. That would mean the family parking tradition stretches back at least 60 years!
Part of the parking tradition includes the kids who were always in someone's back yard playing (if they weren't over on the fairgrounds). This year was no exception. My kids joined second cousins and got a game of 500 going with a football. It wasn't lost on me that one of the two games of choice from my childhood was 500--only with a baseball (the other was kick-the-can).
As much as I enjoyed seeing my children enter into this family tradition (the significance of which is completely lost on them at this time), becoming at least the fourth generation of Quisley-Descended-Freeborn-County-Fair-Car-Parkers (they would be the fifth if Hans and Julia had ever been involved which I'm guessing they hadn't) I was more touched by this scene.
Aunt Shirley spent some of her time between parking cars throwing a football with Gabe. I grew up thinking of my mom and her sister as being, and looking, very different, almost polar opposites. Mom was very soft spoken, Shirley could call in the kids and the cows with one holler. Mom loved the big city, Shirley lived on a farm. Mom married a man she met in the city after only knowing him for eleven weeks and then moved to the ends of the earth(California) while Shirley married a local farm boy and settled down in her hometown. Mom had dark brown wavy hair, Shirley had light brown straight hair. Mom was pencil thin, Shirley had a sturdy build. About the only thing they had in common was being the mother of four (but even with that Shirley's were 4 years apart, Mom's were spread out over 12 years).
But now, when I see my aunt I am taken aback by how much she reminds me of Mom. I can see in her face, as plain as day, that she's my mom's sister. I hear the similarities in her voice and can even sense the same quiet, reserve in her strong personality. I've often been told I look like my mom, but I think in many ways I'm probably an awful lot more like my aunt. So, watching Aunt Shirley play with Gabe--the grandchild my mom never met, the grandchild she would have loved, adored, and championed for with all her heart--made a family connection for me that was stronger and deeper than even the handshakes and generations of County Fair Parking.