Kansas-Themed Reunion a Hit
At the age of 82, my mother decided we should have my dad’s family reunion at the old homestead, which had belonged to my grandparents upon coming to Kansas in 1899. My dad had passed away years before, but Mother stayed on the farm until she died at 93.
Mother came up with some great ideas, and everyone helped make them happen.
While planning the reunion, Mom said, “Oh, I wish we still had the Roosevelt memorial. We’ll need another restroom with all those people.” Mom was referring to the old outhouse we’d had, so my brother, who had recently bought a place with an old outhouse still standing, brought it over and put it out back. Mom was pleased and had the guys shingle it with her collection of old license plates. On the side of it, in big letters, Mom wrote, “Best little outhouse in Kansas.”
Mom also decided we should have a theme for the reunion, and since we were in Kansas, we went with “The Wizard of Oz.” The grandchildren painted blocks of wood bright yellow and placed them from the back door of the house to the old outhouse to serve as the yellow brick road, complete with signs. Along the way, in the mulberry bush, was a stuffed scarecrow hanging in the branches. A little further was some old metal with a funnel on top to represent the remainder of the tin man. Next was a piece of rope with the end frayed, sticking up out of the ground – the remains of the cowardly lion. Just beyond the outhouse was a small pile of wood, under which we placed a stuffed pair of pantyhose with red slippers sticking out – all that was left of the Wicked Witch after the tornado.
On Saturday, the first day of the two-day affair, we met in town at the community center, where the tables were decorated with wild sunflowers picked from the roadside and placed in my grandmother’s old canning jars. After a buffet dinner, everyone drove out to the farm to visit, take photos and wander around the farm. Everyone loved the theme at the farm, and the outhouse was an especially big hit with the city folks and the younger generation.
Sunday afternoon we had an old-fashioned wiener roast, complete with lawn chairs and hay bales for seating. Late in the afternoon, everyone moved their chairs to the front of the garage where we had made a “stage,” and my sister as Dorothy, along with several of the grandchildren, performed a skit called “The Way-Out Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” It was great. The scarecrow wanted a grooming kit so he could get a job, the lion was actually a lioness who wanted equal rights for women, the tin man was plastic and wanted a battery pack, and the wizard had a broken wand and couldn’t remember anything. It was a hit, and several family members caught it on film.
There were 95 of us in attendance, with people coming from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, New Mexico, California, Colorado and Nevada. It was a never-to-be-forgotten reunion.
Lyla – Hartshorne, Oklahoma
Best Reunion Ever
My five sisters, brother and I get together with our extended families once a year, usually around our mother’s birthday in August.
Our most memorable reunion was several years ago when we gathered at the farm on which my siblings and I grew up. No one had lived in the house for many years, but it still held some furniture and an old refrigerator that still worked.
The reunion began on Friday evening when several of the grandsons began the process of roasting a pig. Saturday was a day of fun activities – swimming in the pond, fishing, a horse-collar relay, an egg toss and a cow-pie-throwing contest. For prizes, the winners received ribbons Mom had won for craft items she’d entered in the county fairs and had given to us as children years before. We had T-shirts made for everyone. The shirts featured a caricature of an elderly lady in a rocking chair, surrounded by the words “Granny Annie’s Birthday Bash.”
Mom had suffered a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair, so we had moved her to a rest home. On Sunday, we brought her out to the farm, and she thoroughly enjoyed being back in her home. Everyone brought salads, breads, vegetables and desserts to go along with the roast pork, and there was definitely plenty to eat.
That afternoon, my nephew’s band entertained us with music while some of us danced on the gravel driveway. Mom’s younger brother and sister also joined us, and our uncle, who was nearly 80 at the time, danced with everyone, and wore out much younger family members.
We still have a reunion every August, but it’s usually held in a rental hall now. We take turns hosting the event, and the host decides the date and location, and provides the drinks and dinnerware. Everyone else brings a covered dish, and we have a potluck dinner. More than 100 family members usually attend, and it seems it gets bigger ever year.
Mom is no longer with us, all the buildings on the farm have been razed and the farmyard has been reverted to cropland, but that last reunion at the old home place was truly a memorable event.
Rita – Ulysses, Nebraska
The Thurman Workfest
When my parents were in their 80s and began needing help on their central Nebraska farm, we began the tradition of family reunions, which we named workfests, because my four siblings and I, along with our spouses, children and grandchildren would take care of the work that needed done around the place, and it was a truly festive time.
The workfest lasted a week, and my wife and I slept on an old sofa bed in a former henhouse with a concrete floor. Two old easy chairs and a stove made this Dad’s retreat and a favorite hangout during workfest. Everyone else slept in travel trailers, campers or tents.
Each sibling was responsible for feeding everyone on an assigned day, so Mom wasn’t burdened with food preparation. The women prepared their individual specialties, always making way more food than we could eat. My sister Dolores began bringing a big stack of aluminum pie pans and made “TV dinners” from the leftovers, which she stuck in the freezer for our parents. Needless to say, they had a variety of good foods to choose from for the next several weeks.
Our biggest workfest was the year of Mom and Dad’s 60th wedding anniversary. One day, I counted six groups of two to three men each talking while painting, fixing fence, tearing down an old shed and cutting dead limbs from trees. Meanwhile, the women were cooking, doing yard work and cleaning the house. Several of us also walked the 560 acres of hilly pastureland to keep musk thistle and cedar trees from taking over the native pastures. As we completed each job, Dad would cross it off of the list he had posted on the door.
The workfests ended when Dad died at the age of 92, and Mom moved to an assisted living center in McPherson, Kansas. We now gather twice a year on a farm near McPherson where a granddaughter and her husband raise horses. We still enjoy visiting relatives at these reunions, but we truly miss the joy of helping Mom and Dad with the heavy work on the home place.
Duane – Tulsa, Oklahoma