A week ago, Judy and I had a couple of welcomed stops on our less-than-busy calendar and both brought back lots of memories and lots of thoughts about what used to be.
First, we visited Marty and Nancy Pringle in Otho as they hosted their annual “Racers’ Reunion,” an event that annually draws old (I should say former) racers from around the Midwest. The old-timers gather to tell stories and reminisce about the great memories of auto racing around Iowa in those days after World War II had ended and into the ‘80s.
We’re all older now, and some of the stories we tell have probably “grown” a little through the years. These guys were my heroes when I was growing up – I watched them race at places like the Iowa State Fairgrounds, the Hamilton County Fairgrounds in Webster City, old Sports Park in Fort Dodge and even the old Dayton Speedway, which is now the Dayton Rodeo Grounds.
We had a great time chatting with old friends and looking at a dozen or so restored old race cars. Alas, time sped quickly and we headed toward our second stop of the day, a family reunion in Dayton.
By the time we arrived, a few relatives had already headed back to their homes, but there were still more than 30 folks still gathered.
I’ve written before about the very large family on my mother’s side. She was one of 11 children of Charlie and Hattie (Hildal) Knox. Only the four youngest of seven daughters are still living and all four were still there when we arrived. Only a handful of my many cousins on that side of the family attended the gathering, although there were quite a few of those who still live in the area.
As I sat there, visiting with my aunts and a few cousins, I couldn’t help traveling back in time through my mind to what were once full-blown productions when it came to family gatherings.
There was a big sign painted on a tarp-like material (one of my aunts still has that sign) that proudly proclaimed “Hildal-Maland Renion.” Each July family members would travel from their homes, many from other states, and gather at the park in Jewell that lies beside old Highway 69. That banner would be proudly hung between two trees and faced the highway to tell arriving family members they’d arrived, and also passers-by who were struck by the large crowd in the park.
A five-gallon container of vanilla ice cream was kept frozen with dry ice until the many children could wait no longer. Aunts, uncles, cousins and shirt-tail relatives would gather in small clusters around the park to visit about the past year, catching relatives up to date with family news. It wasn’t unusual to move from picnic table to picnic table and repeat the same stories for other relatives.
Kids would gather at the ball diamond for an impromptu game and, in later years, would toss a frisbee around the park.
I guess my generation has dropped the ball.
The last time I can recall the Hildal-Maland reunion in Jewell was about 25 years ago.
I miss those large gatherings.
Perhaps, the internet is partly to blame. Rather than travel hundreds of miles to sit in sometimes unbeatable heat and visit with folks you only see one Sunday a year, it’s easier to connect by email, or on Facebook.
Sunday’s family get-together was nice; I love to see my cousins, aunts and uncles, even though it’s only one Sunday a year.
But, there was something special about those long-ago Sunday gatherings, meeting many relatives for the first time, and sharing ice cream from a five-gallon bucket kept cold with dry ice. I can almost taste the too-sweet Kool Aid and the cold food brought from far and wide to share.
And, I miss driving up to the park and seeing hundreds of relatives gathered near the big sign hanging between two trees: “Hildal-Maland Reunion.”