July 10, 2009

Just Chillin’…

Category: News — Ira @ 7:03 pm

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Take it easy, take it easy.
Don’t let the sound of your own wheels
Drive you crazy.
Lighten up while you still can.
Don’t even try to understand.
Just find a place to make your stand.
And take it easy.

—The Eagles, lyrics; Take it Easy
____________________________

It’s always the same. The anticipated event approaches. At long last, the day arrives. The festivities begin. Savored as they unfold. And then, all too soon, they’re over. I’ve just returned from six days on the road, my last excursion for the summer. I’m quite grumpy, and don’t want to be back. So on this expedited post, I’ll share a few general reflections and fill in some space with pictures.

We have a lot to learn, in fast paced PA. About chilling, relaxing, and just letting it all rest for a day or two. It wouldn’t hurt us, not to be rushing around like madmen through each minute of each day. Finishing this project post haste, so we can start the next one. And so on, ad infinitum.

It’s been awhile since I was exposed to southern culture. I lived it a few years, back in the early 1990s while attending Bob Jones in Greenville, SC. But since then, decades of running the northern/eastern rat race got to me. I’m a full fledged clock-watching, totally scheduled northern boy.

On Friday afternoon, I set off for West Virginia and the home of my friends, Dominic and Jamie. They were hosting their annual great July 4th party the next day. I arrived by mid-afternoon, and hung out with Dominic. We lazed around his pool, ran a few errands, got stuff together for the next day’s big bash.

They have a little suite in the basement. Bed, bath, everything one needs to stay a few days. Dominic grilled some fine steaks that night, and we retired to rest up for the big bash the next day.

Saturday dawned, beautiful, bright and clear. Perfect day for a celebration. We ambled about, prepping everything. Setting out food and plates and coolers full of every imaginable drink. People would arrive at 2. The party would last until the fireworks around eleven.

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Jamie and Dominic before the party.

And promptly at two, the guests began to trickle in. Friends, coworkers, friends of friends. We feasted on BBQd pork, coleslaw, chips, and a vast array of other delicious dishes. Then sat around the pool, threw darts in the garage, and generally just laid back. I was more laid back than I have been for years. Utterly, and I mean totally relaxed. Even allowed myself to be coaxed into playing a few games of horse shoes. I had never played before. And it showed, against some of those WV hustlers. But I scored a point or two, salvaging a tiny shred of honor. My team lost both games.

Some friends who had attended last year’s party didn’t make it this time. I missed them.

Around ten, Dominic and a few of his buddies unveiled some long, hefty dangerous-looking tubes. Fireworks. Unlike any I’d ever seen in PA. The crowd hung back a safe distance as the boys fumbled with lighters. The flickering flame, a sharp hiss, increasing to a high scream, and off they soared, straight into the skies at least a few hundred feet, before exploding into fiery colorful shreds. I don’t know where Dominic and the boys got those fireworks, or what exactly was in them. But in PA, they would have been immediately arrested after lighting even one.

I retired around midnight, still utterly relaxed, and fell asleep in minutes.

The next day around mid morning, after a good southern breakfast of eggs and bacon, I took my leave. Thanked my hosts for the great experience, and departed for Kentucky. My rented Dodge Charger pulsed along through the Sunday traffic on the WV back roads. Eventually I reached the Interstate and headed south and west.

On Monday, I putzed around eastern Kentucky, ending up in Lexington for the night. Horse country. Lexington is surrounded by hundreds of tidy, fenced horse farms. Huge ornate barns, more elaborate than the owners’ houses. With the economy, the horse business is hurting as well, I gathered from reading the local newspapers and from a few conversations around the area.

On Tuesday, family members would gather at the Blue Lick Battlefield State Resort Park in the Mays Lick, KY area. The site of the last Revolutionary War battle. My nephew John got the idea for the reunion a few months ago. He reserved rooms, took care of all the logistics. Invited everyone to come. Not all of us would make it. Even my parents had left their home in Mays Lick to spend the summer in Aylmer. So they wouldn’t be there.

But we had another reason for gathering at this particular time.

In January of this year, after a battery of tests and scans, my oldest brother Joseph was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a rare form of cancerous blood disease. Once you’ve got it, you’ve got it. It will never leave. You’ll deal with it the rest of your life. Most people who get it develop some sort of program and live relatively normal life spans. Some get wiped out in short order and die.

After his initial diagnosis, Joseph and his wife Iva headed to Mexico for treatment. One particular clinic specializes in cancer treatments, with an emphasis on natural solutions, and some chemo. The treatments seem effective. He’s surviving well, just tires easily. Has to watch himself, not overdo things. Because of his situation, his family decided to get together this summer in his honor.

Slowly we trickled in, those of us who came. And we came from all around. My niece Janice from Phoenix traveled the longest distance. Steve and Wilma Wagler from PA. Jesse and Lynda Wagler from Abbeville, SC. Lester and Rachel Yutzy from Hutchison, KS. Ray and Maggie Marner from Due West, SC. A vast assortment of nieces and nephews. And of course, most of Joseph and Iva’s children, from various Midwestern states.

We’re graying now, the siblings, and no longer young. Nieces and nephews who were always underfoot as squalling children now amble about, full grown adults, some of them married with their own families. It seems strange. Rightfully, time should be frozen somewhere, and we all should remain as we were ten, twenty years ago. But it just doesn’t work that way. Sometimes it seems like I’m dreaming, and need to pinch myself to wake up.

The park has a few cabins and a sprawling comfortable lodge. Most of us booked rooms at the lodge for the two day, two night stay. We greeted each other familiarly, as if we’d last seen each other yesterday. We settled in our rooms and gathered at the main pavilion, which John had also reserved for two days. Coolers full of drinks and baskets and boxes of food were soon strewn about. We sat around and visited as the women laid out the late afternoon meal.

Joseph looked and seemed normal. Just as I’d always remembered him. He is very upbeat about his condition. Determined to do all he can to live and enjoy life. And watch his grandchildren grow.

He grumbled a good bit about my perspectives in the Wicked Pony story. He claimed that I have a very vivid imagination. That I tend to embellish my stories. I laughed and cited artistic license.

At five o’clock, the meal was served. Hot dogs, salad and numerous side dishes. For dessert, homemade, hand-cranked ice cream.

After supper, as dusk settled late, we sat around a camp fire and just hung out. Caught up with the latest news and gossip. There was a minor uproar earlier when one of my uppity nephews slyly accused me of inventing a word in last week’s blog. Ostensively, he said, was not a word. He even drew support from a few other loafers who lounged about, gleefully stirring the flames of dissension. Of course, I was out-raged and defended myself rather stridently. The issue was resolved only after I googled the word on my Iphone and presented the proof to my accusers. So I successfully beat back that little attack. Make up words indeed. Can’t have my reputation besmirched like that.

And that was the start of two lazy, laid back relaxing days. We just chilled. Relaxed. No schedules whatsoever, except for the five o’clock evening meals. Otherwise, everyone was on their own.

Some hiked. Some swam in the pool. Or played mini golf. We staged mock duels with old style flintlock cap pistols purchased at the camp store. A referee carefully counted the step-off, then proclaimed the winner. We visited the graves of Revolutionary War soldiers who had died on that site. We toured the park museum.

I never met any moonshiners, although I chatted with several people who claimed to have contacts. I have no doubt they did.

We brewed strong pitch-black cowboy coffee late at night and sipped countless cups. Retold old stories. Roared at the old jokes. Both the stories and the jokes somehow always grow more vivid and more detailed with each retelling.

On the second night, sisters Dorothy and Janice sang the songs they used to sing as teenagers. Dorothy strummed her guitar and Janice sang harmony as they played the old songs. In the darkness and the flickering shadows of the campfire, they looked exactly as they did twenty years ago, and it took me back. Two little girls, my nieces, singing their hearts out.

We hung out late the last night, then straggled off to bed. And then, on Thursday morning, it was over. Everyone took off for their own homes, returned to their own busy lives.

It was an outstanding gathering, one of the most relaxing in my memory. Only one small problem. Two days wasn’t long enough. Next year we’ll make it three.

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John, Dort, Rachel and others

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Jesse and Lester

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Jesse and Rachel

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Me and my Dodge Charger

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Breakfast of scrapple, bacon, eggs.

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Janice and Ira

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Dueling: Lester and Ira

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Dueling: Glen and Ira

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Firing: Glen and Ira

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Happy Grandpa Jess presenting Ira a SC walking stick

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John, Lester (standing), Maggie, Joseph, Rachel

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Assortment of nephews and nieces

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From rear: Nancy Ann, Joseph, Iva, Rachel, Ray J.

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Glen brewing Cowboy coffee

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Siblings: Rachel, Jesse, Steve, Ira, Maggie

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The entire group (minus Joseph)
Less than half of the extended family attended.

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Dorothy, Rhoda, Janice. Sisters singing

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(13 Comments) »

  1. Well written once again—great job putting the “reunion” fun into words! Love you!

    Comment by Dorothy — July 10, 2009 @ 8:06 pm

  2. Thanks for posting those pics. I could almost bawl that we couldn’t be there. We are looking forward to next year!

    Comment by Andrew — July 10, 2009 @ 8:53 pm

  3. Lots of fun; treasured memories. Wouldn’t have missed it. I’ve been doing more research on the Battle of the Blue Licks. It’s a fascinating and morbid story.

    Comment by Reuben Wagler — July 10, 2009 @ 11:54 pm

  4. Ah, I don’t recall ever seeing Glenn in anything but a red shirt. Also, this is the rule of thumb for great Cowboy coffee making, “Remember to always first boil the water, then simmer the coffee.” And a bit of grit floating on top won’t hurt you.

    Also thanks to niece Nancy’s friend Cristy for taking the great group photos.

    And that was nice, having no organized schedule. Dosen’t everyone live like that ?

    Comment by Grandpa Jess — July 11, 2009 @ 12:28 am

  5. I am so glad your niece Nancy could be there.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — July 11, 2009 @ 9:43 am

  6. Awwwe, you all look so happy! Was this the one where all the siblings were supposed to be there…and were they?? That’s too bad your parents weren’t there, I’m sure they were upset to miss it. Thanks for sharing the pictures, too, and letting us share in your fun from a distance! Great memories for all of you I’m sure ~

    Comment by Bethrusso — July 11, 2009 @ 5:35 pm

  7. My father-in-law, Ray Schmucker, along with his wife, were here over the weekend. He has just been diagnosed with bladder cancer, and has spots on his lungs. We had a nice family gathering, with songs and prayer last night. Read sections of the wicked pony, and then the part about the made up word aloud at the breakfast table this morning. All to great peals of laughter. He said it was so good to laugh.

    Comment by Jerry Eicher — July 11, 2009 @ 9:46 pm

  8. I noticed the song changed….
    :)

    Comment by Janice — July 12, 2009 @ 2:15 pm

  9. Missed seeing you this year, Ira. Glad you had a safe and enjoyable excursion and great pictures of the family reunion!

    Comment by Grace — July 12, 2009 @ 8:46 pm

  10. Looks like fun. Looking forward to next year. Are the gun duels on for next year?

    Comment by Ty — July 12, 2009 @ 11:29 pm

  11. I am glad you had a good time. Iam assuming you had no Pepsi or Pizza!!! re; Alaska Trip!

    Comment by humdinger — July 13, 2009 @ 3:34 pm

  12. Yep, that was a reunion worth attending, am not sorry in the least we went, and looking forward to next year, more cowboy coffee, and more relaxed no-schedule. You see people in more every-day mode. It cost money and took time, but hey, we will all have Christmas the same day and you can’t take your money w/you when you die. See all Waglers and wanna-be’s then.

    Comment by Rachel — July 13, 2009 @ 10:37 pm

  13. I wish I had such a huge family. You are very blessed. Love the pictures. The walking stick is beautiful.

    Comment by Francine — February 4, 2013 @ 12:27 am

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