Thursday, August 23, 2012

Farm Tale/Family Tale

Doris and Vic at their Birch Creek Farm (circa 1985)

Dear George,
Families are mysterious entities.  Except for myself, there’s nobody left from the family into which I was born, but, at the same time, our family has continued, grown, and expanded.  True, many things have changed with the evolving membership, but, on the other hand, some things have remained much the same.  Here’s my picture of how that happened. 

Family portrait at river house (1947): Vic, Peter, Dave, Steve, Doris, Vicki

Growing up and dispersing.   We kids – Steven, Peter, and Vicki, and I -- grew up in the 1940’s and 50’s  on the banks of the Menominee River, and our activities and lives together were inextricably tied to our rural forest/water location.  Then, between 1955 and 1965, we took turns departing for college, and soon we were married and dispersed between one coast and the other.  Though we all came back to Menominee to visit our parents each year, we were almost never there as a whole group, and, busy shaping our own independent lives, we grew out of touch.  

Vic at the Farm’s log cabin (1962)

Farm: A new home base.  Around 1961 Vic and Doris bought 240 acres of farm and forest land near Birch Creek, about five miles north of the city.  The property contained an old log cabin farmouse, dating back to 1886, a barn, and several smaller farm-related buildings.  No one had lived there for years, and the buildings were in a state of deterioration.  Though they hadn’t originally planned to do so, Vic and Doris soon began renovating the farmhouse and its associated buildings, first with the help of construction expert Jim Dama, later with George Jansen Jr.  By the 1970’s “Farm” had become cozy and habitable, and our parents were splitting their time between there and their riverbank home. That became a strain, and they decided to move full-time to Birch Creek.  They offered the river house to any of their children who might choose to live there, but there were no takers.  By that time I was teaching in Cincinnati, Steve was in a large law firm in Seattle, Peter was working for the Dean Witter firm at various locations in the U.S. and Canada, and Vicki had settled in Santa Cruz, pursuing a career as a marriage/family therapist.  

Margie with J and Jennifer at river house (circa 1972)

A new generation discovers Farm.  In 1967 Steve and Margie’s daughter Jennifer, the first grandchild in the family, was born, and our son J was soon followed in 1969.   In the next decade or so, there was a flood of newborns entering the family: Greg, Jacob, Jason, Rhys, Chris, Jessica, and Abra. The presence of this sizeable group seemed to spark my dad’s grandfatherly instincts, and he began organizing annual reunions at Farm in the mid-70’s, insisting that everybody come (and making it feasible by helping to subsidize the travel costs).  The upshot was that our children, from a very young age, grew up getting together with their cousins each summer at Farm, and these joyous, sometimes inebriated occasions strengthened our sense of our family. The grandchildren picked up on our camaraderie and formed close bonds with one another.  As he got older, my dad increasingly envisioned Farm as the homestead for our family for many generations to come.    

Vic and his granddaughter Abra at a reunion at Farm (circa 1991)

Catastrophe.  Our family was to come upon more painful times.  Our mom, Doris, died in 1986, and five years later Vic left Farm to move to a residential care facility in Cincinnati where he passed away in 1993.  The grandchildren by that time were mostly in their teens or older.  For a while we continued the tradition of annual reunions at Farm, but, in the absence of our parents, our get-togethers became less frequent.  My niece, Jennifer, and her fianc√©, Wynn, decided to marry at Farm (rather than in Seattle), and we had a splendid reunion for the occasion in 2002.    However, full-scale tragedy for our family hit in the next few years with the deaths of my brothers Steven and Peter in 2005 and 2006, followed by my brother-in-law George in 2007.  All three were in their early 60’s, and this was devastating to our entire family, especially for the younger generations who lost their fathers and grandfathers.  For the most part, Farm went by the wayside.  I proposed to Vicki that we sell the property.  However, she argued adamantly for keeping it as our family connecting point.

Cousins V and Ingrid on the road at Farm (August, 2012)

Replenishment: The birth of a new generation.  In the meantime our family’s thirtysomething generation and their spouses – Jennifer and Wynn, J and K, Rhys and Tim, Jacob and Kazandra, Jason and Hilary -- began having kids of their own.  Jennifer and Wynn’s son Vincent was born in 2003, followed by Oscar, August, Ingrid, V, L, Anja, Gillian, Elle, Delphine, and Farrah over the next eight years.  Vicki and I talked about gifting the Farm property to our adult children, and, with our sisters-in-laws Margie and Gayle’s agreement, we proceeded to do that.  The new family owners responded with enthusiasm, several making trips to Menominee to work on the property’s upkeep and renovation.  Earlier this month a new grand reunion occurred.  Parents from our Seattle, California, and New Orleans branches with their six young children came, as did my sister Vicki, Katja, and myself.  To me, it symbolized a changing of the guard.  Vicki, Katja, and I were kind of like revered elders (well, maybe not that revered), but the farm itself and the family core now belonged to the younger generation.  The most thrilling aspect was the presence and interaction of the young cousins, ages three to nine, many of whom had never been to Farm and had never met one another before.  The Farm property provided a perfect setting for outdoor adventures and getting to know one another, and the cousins seemed to be bonding just as their parents had some 35 or 40 years before.  A new generation had come into being, and Vic and Doris’ vision of Farm and family suddenly seemed resurrected and likely to have a healthy future.

G-mail Comments
Vicki L (8-26):  Hi David,  Currently having a little mini reunion with my 4 grandchildren (Rhys and Jacob's families). Just read your narrative of the evolving connections /history between generations.. I feel teary for some reason, sad about the geographical distance...the complexity of 'modern' touched to have them aware of the commitment it takes to help glue these relationships (can I muster it?) loving the potential beauty of a family that stays connected over time. Changing times. My tears somehow shifted from sadness to gratitude as I read your story of our family.  Thanks,David, for your important efforts to help us understand our wonderful thread. Love, Vicki

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