You’re looking at August, 1977, in my aunt Elva’s house following The Hoornstra Reunion in The Soo. From left to right, Roy Wagner, Elva Smart Wagner, Doris Smart Murphy, Verna Smart Dickson, Randy Brock (that’s his little hands behind Verna’s head), Russel Murphy, Jane Murphy Brock. Not yet unveiled is Brenda Brock, about 1" tall. Stan Brock, photographer. Give him a break. A ding-dong polaroid is all we had to work with.
Roll back the clock to 1924. Elva and my mom, Doris, are sisters, Elva being 8 years older. She is the one in the middle. My grandmother Mary who died from pneumonia after surgery 8 years later, is sitting to Elva’s left and Mom is sitting lower right, aged 16. When we girls were young, my sister Margaret was Mom’s image in that photo. As we age, I see more of me in this and other pictures. Mom told us that a split second before the photographer snapped this, the allegedly grown men in the back were cutting up, teasing, and being boys.
In the 50’s and 60’s Mom and Elva could have been twins. Elva’s grandkids were confused on more than one occasion. One time Elva phoned Mom to tell her that she had seen her own reflection in Woolworth’s mirror behind the soda fountain and spent the next several minutes stomping around the store looking for Mom intending to give her a piece of her mind for coming to town and not telling her!
Elva was the sister who took Mom under her wing when Mom made the sudden and surprise transition to womanhood. Mom thought she was dying. It was Elva who had eleven babies in less than 15 years, 5 boys followed by 5 girls. One girl was stillborn in the midst of the first 5 boys. Roy teared up in his old age when he mentioned her. Even with a house full of kids and a depression going on, Elva didn’t hesitate to take Mom in, pregnant and towing a toddler, when she left a man she only thought she had married. He had not divorced the first wife. The community, people she’d known from childhood, branded Mom. Elva didn’t care. Roy said he kept Elva around "for heat in the winter and shade in the summer." She referred to him as "an old bat."
That August weekend in ’77 was a kick. Mom and Dad stayed with Roy and Elva; we stayed with Verna in town. We were wondering where Randy’s chip out of his ear came from until Aunt Verna showed us hers. huh. Never know where those genes will pop up. Haven’t seen that trait before or since. But it’s still out there somewhere.
Reunions are all alike. You go there and see some people you know, others you don’t and spend most of your time re-introducing yourself to people you’ll never see again and stand in the grass for a huge group photo with everyone’s face so tiny, you can’t find yourself. I’m glad Stan had the opportunity to meet the aunts and uncles. I’m glad they got to meet Stan and Randy. Generations come and generations go. It’s up to the current to bridge the old and new with stories and pictures. You are what you came from.
It was a tiring trip back to Litchfield. That early stage of pregnancy gave me only enough energy to tag after the toddler on a good day and I hadn’t recovered from the travel when the phone rang. Mom and Dad had barely arrived home when the call came that Elva had been taken to the hospital with a severe gall bladder attack and died. I feel the vacancy again.
It’s been 28 years this month since she left the group. All of the family in that photo are gone now, but they’re still part of me, even the ones who died before I was born. So here I bridge the gap between them and you.
Once upon a time we’re all young and good looking. We just take turns.