I recently began a vacation by visiting friends at their lakeside “camp,” a quaint building set back from the west side of the lake atop a grassy slope. The back deck affords a beautiful view of the lake, and facing east, gets a warm wake up as the sun peaks up over the rolling hills to east side of the lake.
While this particular piece of property had not previously been owned by either of my host’s families, there are several other family properties on other parts of the lake, and that is one of the reasons why my hosts had choosen this area to have a retreat.
The camp was a building which has evolved over time, adding rooms and amenities as previous owners had occupied it and grown. From a small, one room shack, several bedrooms had been tacked on. The plumbing was modernized (moved indoors!) and a dining room added. Later, a living area and finally, the grand deck. Each piece of the whole is different, yet the sum is comfortable and cohesive.
On this particular holiday weekend, a gathering of my host’s family was held at the camp. I’ve know the hosts for many years, and over time had also met many members of the family at different times. What set this occasion apart was the confluence of several of the family members on this visit. The guests were multi-generational, from a very young infant, to a great grandmother.
As the guests mingled and became re-acquainted with one another, filling in gaps created by time and distance, I roamed about–not having the benefit of a deep family history, listening and watching.
On one end of the deck, an elderly aunt was seated in a chaise lounge. She was being interviewed by one of her nieces. The younger woman seated next to her was interested in the family genealogy, and was using several on-line web sites to construct a family tree. I quietly listened as the matronly aunt recalled her parents to the inquisitive niece.
“My father, Joseph, was born in 1914, or so.”
Click, click, click. “1914 in Columbus, Ohio, according to the census data,” the interviewer replied, after some typing and then pointing to her laptop. Young techno-savvy meets elder memory.
“Yes. Well, I believe he and mom got married in 1935.” The aunt looks up–expecting confirmation–she learns quickly. The young woman nods, looking up. The story continues, “She was married in her mother’s dress, a formal white wedding dress from the turn of the century. I was later married in the same dress.” The listener sets her computer aside. “When I was born in 1937, I was the second child. My younger brother, James, did not survive.” Pause. “That was quite common then.” The biographer is quickly becoming rapt in the tale.
I quietly turned away. As I walked along the deck, in that slow, party mingle gait, I could hear the story continue. I felt somehow glad that there was a bond forming between the two family members–a bonding which would be more than the sterile data on the computer screen, but a true sharing of the family lore from one generation to another.
On another part of the deck, I happened upon two brothers, deep in conversation. I know enough of the family history to know that they had been estranged for some time. I had met each on different occasions. I did not know the cause or the particulars of the rift–I had only heard it discussed in passing. They looked up from their conversation, acknowledging me and smiling. After a quite greeting, they turned back to one another and continued to talk. I moved on, sensing that this was a vital conversation, best left to run its course.
At the far end of the deck, I came upon the new mother, with the small, delicate package of her newborn son cradled in her arms. She too had a young niece in tow, the youngest child of her older sister. They were not speaking of past history however, the young teenager was more interested in the baby and the process of childbirth.
Here too, lore and learning were being passed on. Much like the pastiche of the house, different members of the family had come together, engaged as one, some local and some from miles away. But the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. History was being learned; rifts being mended; new generations were creating history. The house, and more importantly, the family, stands.