Family Reunion

by J.D. Roth

Kris and I hosted a family reunion on Saturday. Out of the 80+ possible Roths and Swartzendrubers, about 35 showed up for food, fun, and fellowship. It was great to see everyone, even Tammy.

When I was a boy, my father’s family was quite close. We lived just down the road from my grandparents’ house. Aunts and uncles and cousins made frequent visits. Because we didn’t do a lot with neighbors or friends in town, family gatherings were special. They were the most important social events. We saw each other several times each year.

As we grew older, though, we grew apart. Grandma died. Grandpa died. Aunt Janice and Uncle Norman died. My father died. The cousins spread across the country. For ten or fifteen years, we saw little of each other. Then, about five years ago, we gathered at Tammy’s house between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We had a fine little reunion. That’s now become something of a tradition, one that I look forward to, but it seems unfair to always be imposing upon Tammy’s hospitality. (Although it builds character in her.) Now that Kris and I have a large yard, we volunteered to host a summer gathering.

This is a family of story-tellers. Not everyone is a writer (though there are many among us), but everyone loves to tell stories. On Saturday, we clustered in the shade and listened to Mart and Scott. Kris loved Mart’s tale of buying cheap boots, which will lose a lot in translation:

Mart went in to the Wilco farm store in Oregon City. They were having a sale: $50 off all Justin Boots. Since Justin Boots are normally about $150, this sounded like a good deal to him. He rummaged around, looking for bargains. (See? It runs in the family. Mart’s father is Pop from Pop Buys Pop.) He found a pair of custom-order boots that somebody had never picked up. They were marked at $60. When he went to the counter to pay, he pointed out that all Justin Boots were $50 off. The clerk hemmed and hawed, but called her manager, and sure enough, Mart got the boots for $10. They weren’t in his size, though, so he gave them to his brother. A few days later, he decided to go back to look at the boots again. This time he found a pair of custom-order boots marked at $50. Sensing a fantastic bargain, he went to pay for them, fully expecting to get them for free. He found the same clerk who’d helped him before. She recognized him. Mart asked if he could have these boots for free, and the clerk was going to call her manager when an older clerk came forward. Special-order boots weren’t eligible for the $50 discount, she explained. Well then, Mart wasn’t going to buy the boots. The clerks stopped him and asked if he’d take the boots for $25. He would. These boots weren’t in his size, either, so he gave them to another brother.

Sounds pretty dry in a weblog, but it’s quite funny when Mart tells it. I also liked listening to Val’s stories. Valerie was always one of my favorite cousins, but I haven’t seen her much in twenty years. Her little tales of life in Idaho were gems. My favorite dealt with animal intelligence:

One morning on the farm, the cat caught a crow. This was amazing in and of itself, but what was more amazing was that as the captured crow cawed and struggled, other crows descended. Ten, twenty, thirty crows landed in a circle around the cat, raising a terrible din. The cat was frightened, released its victim, and fled from the advancing flock.


As usual, there were family photos to share. Ben brought a treasure trove of large prints of my grandmother from around 1925, when she was working as a file clerk at Montgomery Ward in Portland (working in the building that is now Montgomery Park). I plan to scan these and post these photos soon.

Photography is always a hot topic at these gatherings. This time, my cousin-in-law Ruth brought with her a Mamiya RB67 Pro, a medium-format camera. Ruth used to be a keen amateur, but lately she hasn’t the time. She’s doing her best to convince me that I want this camera, and that I should buy it from her.

The kit she’s offering includes the camera, a prism viewfinder, a 90mm/f3.5 (which I think is equivalent to a 35mm or 50mm lens on a 35mm system), a 180mm/f4.5 lens (which is a portrait lens — this one’s shutter is broken), two film backs, and a polaroid back. “You can put a digital back on it,” she told me. But when I looked up prices for digital backs, I was shocked to see that they’re about $15,000! Ruth is loaning the camera to me. If I like it, I’ll offer her a fair price.

To test it, I made this image of my Aunt Virginia. I used the 90mm lens at f5.6 and 1/60 sec. It’s easy to remember this stuff because it takes a l-o-n-g time to set up a shot with this camera. And each shot is precious. The image is fairly poor, in part because of the outdated Polaroid film that I didn’t know how to use (note that the right-side is a mess from this), and in part because I don’t know how the viewfinder frames things. I cut off poor Virginia’s ankles!

It was a fine reunion. Scott has volunteered to host a gathering next summer, at which he plans to roast one of his pigs. Tammy thinks it’s too far to drive, but the rest of us will have some delicious fresh pork.

Updated: 10 July 2006

Do what's right. Do your best. Accept the outcome.
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