When I was small, I confused my cousins in Ohio with the Lennon sisters on TV.
If you heard them sing, you’d understand why – assuming you’re old enough to remember the Lawrence Welk Show, the venue that made the Lennon sisters famous. That picture is circa 1957.
My cousins – Ruth, Janet, Carol and Helen Palmer – sang together beautifully, too. To me, they looked and sounded just like Dianne, Peggy, Kathy and Janet Lennon. They sang hymns like “Faith of Our Fathers” and “Adeste Fidele” every bit as harmoniously….
This picture, with Ruth, the oldest, at the far right, is also circa 1957.
Why Mr. Welk picked the Lennons over the Palmers I’ll never understand.
The Palmer sisters even had a secret weapon – “little” brother Richard. Almost six years younger than Helen, the youngest Palmer sister, Richard sings a mean tenor. (He also grew to a towering 6’2”.)
Last week we all gathered for a mini-family reunion at Janet and Bill’s cottage at Gem Beach on Catawba Island off Lake Erie. Well, almost all. Ruth passed away suddenly and tragically three years ago. But her husband, Mark, was on hand, having driven in all the way from Wyoming. Also attending were various Significant Others, their kids and their kids’ kids.
All told, we were 20, representing four generations and ranging in age from six to 90. My mother flew in from Dallas to preside over the affair.
I loved that little Christina – Richard’s youngest granddaughter – kept running back into the living room from outside every few minutes to special-wave to my mom, who would special-wave back. (Christina’s the tiny blonde in the lower left of the group photo.)
The day before the big BBQ shindig, 12 of us gathered for a sit-down dinner together.
Mom made her signature deviled eggs.
Georges made his signature coq au vin – with fresh vegetables from Helen’s garden.
We were just two generations at this dinner.
Mom is at the far right. She is surrounded by her beloved nieces and nephews:
- Richard, who drove up from Findlay about 90 minutes away several times to visit, is next to her;
- Mark from Wyoming is next to him;
- At the far back are cottage hosts Janet and Bill of Cleveland, flanked by partially obscured Janet and Carl from McCutchenville about 75 minutes away;
- Next to Helen is Carol, who flew in from South Texas.
- Next to Carol is Richard’s wife, Kim.
- Next to Kim is cousin Jean from Tiffin.
I’m at the end.
Our week together was a special time. An adored Mom and Aunt, my mother is the last of her siblings still on this Earth. Here she is circa 1952.
Who knows when we’ll all be together again?
We spent a lot of time sitting around, telling stories, reminiscing. We started one afternoon….
And were still going at it another evening….
Janet performed one of the scripts she’d written for the Lorain County Historical Society, entitled “News and Views with Edith Fern.” It was witty commentary about the “nifty 50s” by a fictional Edith Fern who had something gossipy to share about everything from FDR, Clark Gable, King Edward, Shirley Temple and Judy Garland to poodle skirts, cat glasses and jello gelatin.
I particularly liked Edith Fern’s signature line: “If you can’t say something nice about somebody, just come sit down next to me.”
Later in the week, I caught Mom holding court with Jean, Bill, Mike, Mandy, Nikki, Carol, Janet and Helen. (That would be three generations.)
Not much gets by Mom. She was careful to keep a eye on Richard, Christina and the ice cream maker. (We consumed five quarts in one sitting!)
Here’s a two-generations photo. Left to right: Helen, Carol, me, Janet (standing), Jean, Mom and Richard. (Jean is the daughter of my mother’s late brother Wayne; the others are the children of my mother’s late sister, Edith.)
We did make time for a little sightseeing. One day, G and I spent more nearly four hours pedaling around both sections of the island, stopping briefly at the Marblehead Lighthouse to enjoy the view of Lake Erie.
The weather was great so we spent some time at the beach. And we studied up a bit about Lake Erie, the second of the five Great Lakes we’ve visited so far on our Year on the Edges of America.
Bill drove four of us to the Confederate Cemetery on Johnson’s Island just across the bridge. I couldn’t figure out why there’d be a confederate cemetery in Ohio. Turns out that it actually started as an island prison for confederate soldiers.
Later, when the war ended and the prison was dissolved, the cemetery was established about a half-mile away from the prison site. Of the 12,000 prisoners, 239 died. Some are unidentified to this day; all have headstones.
That’s Mom and Carol….
On the way to the cemetery we chatted about childhood memories of Ohio. North-central Ohio is where Mom grew up on a farm – dollars to donuts you’ve never heard of McCutchenville – and it’s where my cousins grew up on a farm, too. Mom recounted how the father of Sam Sheppard (the real-life physician on which the film The Fugitive is based) was my grandfather’s physician.
In fact, Sam Sheppard’s father actually delivered my mother’s oldest brother into this world in 1916. Mom always thought Sheppard the son – played by Harrison Ford, tracked by a relentless Tommy Lee Jones – was innocent of those murder charges….
I couldn’t match that in the Small World Department. I recounted, instead, how Richard taught me to drive a 12-gear John Deere tractor when we were about 11 or 12. I was visiting from Arizona.
Richard and I drove that rumbling tractor right down the middle of State Route 53, well before either of us was anywhere near old enough to get a driver’s license, en route from Aunt Edith and Uncle Wayne’s farm to Grandma and Grandpa’s house along the railroad tracks about a mile away.
I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
I also recall spotting a tornado heading our way from the top of the silo one afternoon….
Everybody had a story to tell last week, a memory to share. Some of these recollections have been passed down from generation to generation, and now it’s our turn to recount them for younger ears. Woven together, these tales are the tapestry of our family’s oral history….
Soon Mom returned to Dallas, family members scattered, and G and I pointed our noses north to Detroit and beyond.
We are back on the road again, delightfully animated by warm memories of all-too-rare family time together….