02 September 2011

Looking Back and Preparing for the Future

Today I've been migrating old family newsletters to newer formats--making a new back-up of the old scans and then spending some time word processing articles from the pre-computer days. This is important work that needs doing if we expect our histories to last. However it takes time--mostly because I can't help reading and remembering. Here are some excerpts from my account of the last Thanksgiving our family spent together before the death of our mother.

Family Reunion—Thanksgiving—Farewell in November 1980
written April 1982
In September of 1980, my sister received her mission call to the Pusan, Korea Mission. She didn’t have to be in the Mission Training Center in Provo until December 1; the timing seemed perfect to hold her mission farewell over Thanksgiving weekend and have a big family reunion (with Mom, Dad, eight sisters and two brothers) at the same time.

Because of the size of our family (seven of us were married and there were 25 grandchildren), we usually held reunions on a campout basis. We decided to make an exception this time; we would all squeeze into our parents’ large home in Logandale, Nevada. The home was well-suited to the load. There were six bedrooms, four bathrooms, a huge kitchen, spacious living room and twin family room, and a playroom the same size as the double car garage above it.

Even though the house was big, we knew there would be a lot of people in one house for three days. My mother was not well; my sister and I decided to make food assignments for the Thanksgiving dinner we planned on Friday—since many of us would be traveling on Thursday—and for the other meals we would have together. We sent these assignments out in the family newsletter.

The girls still at home and my parents cleaned house and decided who would sleep where. Every family was assigned a bedroom; the three single girls slept in the living room. The only still childless couple got the family room. My family was assigned the big playroom, since we had more children than anyone else.

Because I was in charge of the turkey, I got as much as I could prepared the night before as we stayed up and visited together. Then I got up at 5:30 the next morning to stuff it and put it in the oven. Most everyone was tired; but one sister heard me and got up early with me. We had a close sisterly chat while we fixed the turkey. It was a nice quiet time for a private visit in the midst of all the confusion each day seemed to bring. As the morning progressed, each sister and sister-in-law prepared her part of the dinner. We had a lot of good girl talk in Mom’s big kitchen.

Mom was suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and was always in a lot of pain. We were worried about her getting too tired, but knew how she loved to have her house full of family. She was assigned a comfortable chair in the middle of the kitchen so she could be in on everything.

She had us get out her genealogy records and showed us some additional work that needed to be done on Dad’s four generation sheets. The grandchildren wandered in and out, and we kept assigning their fathers to take care of them.

Dad had built a special cupboard in the kitchen. It had no back. Instead it had two fronts with doors. The other entrance was in the adjoining hall. This had always been a favorite with the grandchildren. This day was no exception. A constant parade of children popped out the doors into the busy kitchen.

Of course there were the babies to be cared for. If one’s mother was busy with the dinner, an aunt would tend a fussy baby until the mother was free. We had so much baby-switching, it was hard to keep track of whose baby was crying. There was always someone handy to comfort a cry. The unmarried girls did their share of tending. They got out some of their old dolls they had fixed up for the occasion. The little girls played for hours with the Pee-Wee dolls and all their clothes.

We ate dinner shortly after noon at the old Logandale School. Because Dad was the caretaker there, we were able to use the building. We carried all our goodies over in cars. The men had set up the tables and chairs that morning. When we all gathered together, it looked like a ward party instead of a family dinner. The food was delicious, and even after we all ate our fill, there was a lot left over. Dad always announces, “There’s plenty to eat, but none to waste.” This occasion was no exception.

At home again, we practiced our songs and took baths and showers, keep the water and children going in a steady stream. Some of the mothers were in Mom’s bedroom with her that afternoon, and she suggested using her Jacuzzi to bathe some of the children. The Jacuzzi was in her large bedroom suite. One sister named it the “people-washing machine.” We loaded it with little girl cousins, turned on the agitator, then drained and dried the kids and repeated the cycle with some little boy cousins. The children had been enjoying Dad’s acre of grass, sand and pomegranate trees, so the clean-up job was challenging.

Our family choir director November 1980
Dad is listening.
Mom spent most of her time in her bed, always resting for the next big event. A favorite place for a quiet mother-daughter or sisterly chat, her bedroom never lacked for visitors. She was our strength. Her love held us all together.

The next morning we were all busy getting ourselves and our children ready. Church began at 12:00 noon. That meant we had time for our last minute practices. Our sister did such a great caricature of a choir director; it was hard to keep from laughing. Because of that her husband took over as leader. His goal was to make us more serious and prepared, but he has a smile that just won’t quit; we were still pretty light-hearted.

The final thing we did before church was have a picture-taking session. As we took turns doing last minute diaper changes and hair-arranging, the various family groups had pictures taken. Then we all gathered into one large group, while a neighbor, recruited at the last minute, snapped pictures from each camera. We were told to move closer together, and we already were so close we couldn’t breathe normally. Then the toddlers and babies on the front row started to act up; one crawled away. The family mix was again apparent as a random uncle picked up a screaming nephew and posed with the yelling child and his famous smile. After much coaxing and threatening, several shots were taken. We were relieved to break ranks.

Family Photo November 1980
The family chorus sang “I Am a Child of God” for the prelude music, the grandchildren brought off “I Hope They Call Me on a Mission” with only a few mishaps. (My youngest daughter fell down on the way to the piano, and my sister had to start over on the accompaniment because no one started with her the first time.) Our other musical numbers were “Keep the Commandments” and “The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning.” We could feel the Spirit burning on our last chorus.

At home again from church, many of the family were preparing to leave, and we were trying to get our last visiting done. Our three living grandparents were there, Grandma Whitney and Grandma and Grandpa Christensen. Family groups were gathered in the living room, kitchen and family room. I was in the kitchen making myriads of turkey sandwiches and carrot sticks. My assigned meal was this last one, and most of it would be taken on the road.

Then came the time when we were all called into the living room together to have our final family prayer of the reunion. After prayer we spontaneously began to sing, “God Be with You Till We Meet Again.” Emotion was at levels hard to bear. Personally, I couldn't bear it and I left the room to finish the sack lunches. 

1 comment:

  1. Hey, I remember the dolls! Rachel and I would sometimes fight over who was more favored by Grandma Whitney - yes even when we were in college. My ultimate proof was always this picture.