After missing our annual reunion last year because of the pandemic, Henry and Marie Woster’s five kids got together last weekend on the Missouri River bluffs south of Chamberlain.
My four siblings – two brothers and two sisters – and I have gathered each summer since 2005, the year after our mother died. Perhaps because we were kept apart last summer by COVID-19, three generations of family seemed even more eager than usual to meet cousins, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles and grandkids. This year, a handful of great-grandchildren added to the chatter and the laughter.
We are offspring of a Bohemian father and an Irish mother. When we get together, we hug and weep, joke and talk. We do it all at the top of our lungs. I have no idea what the Tower of Babel sounded like, but I can’t imagine it was much more daunting than the first step inside the reunion headquarters when things are in full cry. The sustained noise is enough to make old folks with hearing aids whimper. Tiny children break into tears, looking around wild-eyed, their fight-or-flight response set at full flight, even if they can’t yet walk or crawl.
The only time I ever attended a Minnesota Twins’ game, in the old Metrodome, Dan Gladden smashed a grand-slam home run early on. The noise level for the next two innings was indescribable. It was like that this past weekend when we all gathered in the lodge. Our relatively soft-spoken parents produced a bunch of noisemakers. It can be overwhelming when six separate conversations are being carried on at the decibel level of a jackhammer.
Still, it’s reassuring to know that my siblings and I managed to raise children and grandchildren who genuinely enjoy each other, who look forward to spending time together. We did something right if they get excited at the prospect of a hot July weekend out on the prairie where their parents and grandparents grew up. From New York City, Los Angeles, the Twin Cities, Sioux Falls and Brookings, they come to a little river town, and they have a good time.
The Missouri is part of the charm. From the deck of the lodge, a person can see upstream to somewhere near Kiowa Flats and downstream to the bend just above the mouth of the White River. During the day, we splash and boat and tube on that river. In the evenings we stand on the deck at sunset and take it in. I’m pretty sure the young people see how much the river means to us old folks.
My little sister lives over east in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but she told us that her granddaughter recently said, “I guess I’m more of a river girl.’’ That kid’s grandma did something right.
As for the five original Woster kids, we have our individual ways of coming home to the one spot on Earth that will always be our place. We, the five of us, are growing old. By any measure, we’re getting there. We celebrated my big sister’s 80th birthday. We missed my big brother’s 80th last year, but we all know he will turn 81 in a couple of weeks. The baby of the family is almost 70.
We’ve survived illnesses and some hard times, and we look it. Not a one of us can hear any better than a river rock. Our hair is gray or white. Keith Richards’ face has no more lines than our faces do, and our farm-strong muscles fell by the wayside years ago. We’ve been AARP material for so long I think they forgot us.
And yet, sometimes when things are quiet and the sun is fading behind the western bluffs out toward where our farm used to be, I look at my brothers and sisters and don’t see senior citizens. I see kids I sledded with down the big snow drift that reached the garage roof, kids I played tag with in the shelter belt, kids I yelled at pigeons with in the hayloft of the barn.
I guess I keep coming back to the reunion every summer to see those kids again.