Pastoral Ponderings . . .
A month ago Carm and I went to the family reunion of my mother’s side of the family in Stetsonville, WI…240-miles straight north of here. And if I could give the old Hee Haw salute to a small town I’d say, “Hee Haw would like to salute Stetsonville, WI. Population 541. Saa-lute!”
The reunion was a great time. Carm had never met any but a couple of people from my family since most family events take place over the weekends and on Sundays. She did an admirable job of remembering my aunts and uncles, which kids belonged to which family, who some of the spouses were, and even a few of my cousin’s kids. (I’m still confused however: Are my cousin’s kids my second-cousins or my first cousins once-removed?)
Stetsonville and my grandparent’s farm was where we kids wanted to go and where I spent two summers working after my uncles left for college and Vietnam. My grandpa and two of his brothers had adjacent mink ranches: making this a large, extended family affair.
My first memories of the farm included my grandpa still working the farm with the help of horses. We didn’t “bale” hay. Instead, the horses would be led by my grandpa with an open wagon in tow. Attached to the wagon was the hay loader where “mechanical fingers would scoop up the loose hay, work it up the chute, and then drop it on the trailer where the men would settle it. (You can look up how a horse-drawn hay loader works on YouTube if you have WiFi, Lord.) After that we would take the wagon to the barn where a tractor or an old “hit and miss” motor would run the large belts (some of which were 20′ long) that powered the forks that lifted the hay into the mow…where (again) one or more of the guys would throw the loose hay around.
Grandpa had a thousand or more mink in individual pens…each of which had to have their water cups filled three times a day in the summer and twice a day in the winter, with two feedings each day. There seemed to be an endless supply of hoses which were dragged back and forth down the rows of mink sheds, each of which were 150′ in length. In winter the ice had to be broken out of each cup and the cups filled with warm water. All the mink food was mixed fresh every day with the 30-gallon cans dumped from the side of the pick-up truck into a large mixer that would eat your hand in a moment. (OSHA and commonsense would suggest this was a dangerous operation.)
Sundays were spent with family…anyone who dropped in. The adults sat in the shade of the tree or headed to the horseshoe pits while us kids played in the trees, swung on the tractor-tire rope swing, took tractor & trailer rides to the pond Grandpa dug, or played ball in the large area surrounded by the house, garage, barn, and machine shed. Every now and then my uncles would play ball with us and pop one over the machine shed, which sent us cousins after the ball, hoping it didn’t land in a cowpie. Every Sunday we did chores and got dressed for church without exception. Nobody missed church.
On the trip up to and from Stetsonville I regaled my fine wife with stories until she finally held up her hands and told me Stop! I couldn’t help it…there were just so many good memories of my grandparents and family. Finally I quit, knowing that no matter how detailed my stories were they could never convey what I really knew about my mother’s family.
If you remember, Lord, as we were driving with the car finally quiet, I thanked you. I thanked you for the imperfect but loving family I was raised in and for the many memories I was given. I thanked you for the gift of memory itself and the remarkable ability of a single memory to bring warmth and hope. And I thanked you that my family built a foundation upon which I based the rest of my life.
I can tell you with pride that when you look at me you see three things. Physically you see my dad. Essentially you see my mother and her family. Spiritually you see the faith they raised me with. My family taught me my faith, prayed together, and relied on your presence. I hope the life I live with leave my children and grandchildren with these same gifts.
As always, thanks for listening. I love you. Did I mention how we milked the cows….?