Heritage plays role in people we become

By Clyde Davis: Local Columnist

This is the season; the time of year is on us. It’s usually perfect, too; not too hot, not yet cold. Maybe some rain, but more often only the threat. It’s a good time of year to make a road trip, which in our case was necessary.

The trip was to Bazine, Kan., 400 miles from here, according to my wife’s Uncle Leon and Aunt Marian, but we found it’s more if you run into thunderstorms. The good news: the rain cooled the area off so that it was fine to be either outside or inside.

The event was a family reunion on Jan’s side, specifically her dad’s side. After we went to church Saturday (they are Seventh Day Adventist),

I think the first real concrete impression on me was the dinner we ate. It smelled like Grandma’s kitchen up in Pennsylvania. German country cooking is German country cooking, no matter what state you are in. To say it made me homesick to be 8 years old again, well, that would be fairly accurate. That Grandma on my dad’s side never used a recipe.

Everything was done by intuition.

Did you ever sharpen your awareness of that? How smells can make you miss a time and place? The smell of coffee perking, cigarette smoke and bacon frying, all at the same time, is sure to make me miss my mom’s dad, as I imagine that he is out in the kitchen cooking breakfast for a little boy, who is me. Fortunately, for the sake of nostalgia, those three smells don’t come together too often.

But let’s not digress. I forgot to tell you about the church. I think that, when one crosses the state line into Kansas, one has symbolically entered the Midwest. The wonderful, homegrown beauty of small churches is that their architecture usually reflects a spirituality that’s missing in the new corporate model churches, those built in the ’60’s.

So it was with this particular structure. It’s akin to the beauty of the Rancho de Taos church, or the one in Santa Rosa. Or the one in Hammondsville, Ohio, but most of you have never seen that one. They are churches that were built to express a peoples’ faith, not “for program” or “efficiency” or “multifaceted use.” They have Sunday School (or Sabbath School) rooms, not “educational centers.” They are beautiful, rural American cathedrals, and they express a history and groundedness that’s absent from the homogeneous contemporary auditoriums.

Anyway, there was so much of my wife’s heritage here, contained more than anything in people whom she had not seen, in some cases, for years. It was significant, too, to take my grandson to this place, so that he could experience that aspect of his background. To be sure, he’s too young to understand. He was far more interested in hauling me over to the playground across the road, until he found some playmates his own age. But it will matter, in the future. It’s part of who he is.

About who you are, that is what the partial value of a family reunion is. One of my wife’s cousins said it graciously when they were sharing memories aloud. I wish I’d written it down but it was something like this: She mentioned looking around the room at a previous reunion and realizing this is who she is, these are her people, this is where she comes from.

That’s real valuable today, as we look at who most of us are. I come from four ethnic groups, minimum, and many folks of my generation have more than that. This is good, but one thing I’ve always realized is that each has its uniqueness, its beauty, its power. Where I grew up, lots of backgrounds could be found, and we learned to treasure everyone’s, at least the way I was raised. The danger, in our homogenized society, is that we lose that appreciation. This is part of the beauty of any family reunion.

The other is neat people, great pictures and videos, and fine food.
It’s a lot of work on somebody, and some of my wife’s cousins and aunts and uncles worked real hard pulling this together.