Family Reunion

The Leo Trumper home
The boys and I are returning from our trek to Pana, Illinois. Every year for the past 66 years the descendants of the Leo Trumper family (and cousins of various names--Werners, Sprects, Yencks, and others I may not know) have gathered at the original homesite for a family reunion. Relatives from New Jersey, Michigan, Arizona, and even Beijing, China, this year, travel to spend time with each other for a weekend.

It is my maternal grandfather's side of the family. I never knew him--he died before my parents were even married. I didn't know a lot of that family, either. We didn't get to make the trip a lot when I was young. I've gone many more times since I've been married, but it still hasn't been that frequently--at least as frequently as we'd like.

Even though I didn't grow up close to these cousins of varying degrees, when we arrive in Pana it is like we have always been close. Even now, as soon as my boys get out of the car, they know they are surrounded by family who love and accept them.

We gather at the home where my grandfather and his six siblings grew up as children. I'm not sure when the last time anyone lived in the old house was, but it remains--largely unchanged--solely for the purpose of the reunion. My Aunt Madeline used to come out from Maryland and stay for longer chunks of the summer in the house--in the room she grew up in--but she isn't able to make the journey any longer--at least not very easily.

The boys and I stay in the house when we visit (Beth has been doing research and field work the last couple times we've gone, so we make the journey without her). The bed sags in the middle. The floorboards creak. The paint is peeling. The bathroom contains a large four-clawed bathtub and a toilet which you can't flush the toilet paper in because the septic system can't handle it. It is not a house you would typically want to sleep in alone. But we never have to. My mom's cousin Denise and her kids are always there as well. Up until a year ago, her father was always there also. As well as anyone else who was up for the quaint amenities.
The Great-Aunts & Uncles

Most everyone there is called an "aunt" or "uncle" regardless of their relation to you. The oldest generation (my mom's true aunts and uncles) still get called that by my generation. The older cousins become my kids' aunts and uncles. We're all family (including the non-family members who often come--boyfriends, girlfriends, even just regular friends).

My Great-Aunt Denise would often show up in the mornings with an offering of pastries, orange juice, and the local parish paper to let us know what time mass would be on Sunday. She doesn't do it much any more (it was often for her late brother Vic who stayed there), but she always did it silently, not wanting to draw attention to herself, but to serve those who were staying in the house.

My Great-Aunt Mary and Uncle Richie always get the house in order and prepare boundless feasts for those who arrive early and stay late.

The big gathering is on Sunday afternoon. Everyone contributes to a wonderous potluck. Most of us complain about having eaten far too much. Yet we still find room for dessert and leftovers later in the evening. As well as a run across the street to the Dairy Queen which my Great Uncle Paul first started.

Nils on the swing
We have our traditions: after the meal there is a water fight and then Uncle Richie brings out bags of northern white beans and straws to have "pea shooter" fights. The yard always has a swing made from a sack tied to rope hanging from a tree. Whenever a train comes down the tracks behind the house the kids love to gather apples that have fallen off the trees to throw at the cars. We'll put nails, pennies and other small objects on the tracks to see how the train cars misshape them. We generally do a lot of sitting around in chairs on the lawn talking and watching the kids play.

As an ordained minister, even though I am not Catholic like most of the family, I still am asked to pray for the meal whenever I am there. It sometimes feels like a weighty burden that I am not worthy of doing. But no matter what, I am accepted.

That is what being family is. I know they're not perfect. And often they're a little too obvious or confessional in their imperfections, but the Trumper family is a place where all are welcome and accepted. They are giving, loving servants who love to share and take care of each other. I think--at least I hope--that family is a little glimpse of Heaven. At least all those good parts.

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