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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Grandparents, Parents, and Maybe Too Much Information

By the time you read this, I’ll be in Arkansas, in the middle of a weekend celebration for my younger sister’s 50th wedding anniversary. She is the fifth of my parents’ six children to reach this milestone; my younger brother will do so two years from now. When I mentioned this to my doctor at USF Health, she said, “That must be some kind of record.” I demurred, and she went to the outer office and posed the question to the staff. It turned out that no one ever had heard of such a big family in which everyone reached their 50th anniversary. I really hadn’t thought of it that way, and I’d be interested in what you think. I also apologize if you think I’m bragging: I don’t intend that. So, in all humility and recognition of unusually good fortune:

The only grandparents I remember celebrated their 50th in Minnesota back in 1956. Grandma and Grandpa Schultz had twelve kids, and the only divorce was my Uncle Lawrence, whose wife took their four little kids and left for a better offer. After I was old enough to understand what it meant to “have to get married,” I could empathize with her. Lawrence was kind, but handicapped by a cleft palate and speech impediment, and he always was going to be poor. He was satisfied with working as a farm hand, so I can see why she may have felt despairing enough to flee. I was a teenager by then, but divorce still was a word not spoken, and Grandma stopped my aunts’ conversation when she saw that I was listening. Lawrence, however, remarried and had a happy life.

The Norwegian side of my family was quite different, but no one talked about that at all, not even in whispers. Grandma Hansina was the oldest of seven, and she married soon after her father was killed by a horse. If she was looking for a father figure, she found the opposite: her husband was the youngest of seven, and he may have been looking for a mother. In any case, they had two little boys when his depression became so severe that she had to commit him to a mental institution, where he stayed for the next fourteen years.

She hired an immigrant from Norway to run the farm, and as an eventual result, my Aunt Elsie was born. Elsie was two years old before Hansina could get a divorce and marry her farmer. I always was told that my paternal grandfather had died and never knew about the divorce until I was in my forties; my father was dead when my mother finally acknowledged it. Dad nonetheless had a happy family, which included his stepfather’s nieces and nephews who moved to Minnesota from Chicago when their Norwegian immigrant parents died of tuberculosis.

My parents celebrated their 25th anniversary just a few years before making a truly life-changing decision to move from Minnesota to Arkansas. Explaining why is too long a story, but Arkansas became home for the four youngest of their six kids. They celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1978, just ten days before Dad died. No one understood that the congestion he had was not a cold, but instead an enlarged heart, and happily ignorant, we had a good time. They married on January 1 – something that Mom later very much regretted – and a whole tribe of kids and grandkids set off fireworks on New Year’s Eve.

“The First Crop” of Kids

That’s what Dad called the two oldest of his six, because he and Mom had their children over a twenty-year period. When we moved to Arkansas, my oldest brother had married and even had a child, so he stayed in Minnesota. His wedding was in an old country Lutheran church, with the reception in the bride’s farm home. I was too young to understand that when my new sister-in-law’s aunt smoked a cigar, she had had too much to drink. But it all worked out, and they celebrated their 50th in 2002 -- and were truly fortunate to have both of their mothers, then in their nineties, at the party. They went on to have a 60th anniversary in 2012 before his wife died. Now 88, he and his high-school sweetheart are coming for our youngest sister’s big weekend in Arkansas.

I wore a blue velvet dress to his wedding, with three tiers in the skirt and a white lace collar. My older sister had paid $8 for it in Washington, DC before flying home for the wedding – when flying was a very big deal. Sis was the first of my Schultz grandparents’ eventual 56 grandchildren to leave Minnesota. She was recruited by the Navy to come to their Washington headquarters, as the military had discovered during World War II that young women from the Midwest were likely to be hardworking and loyal employees, who nonetheless were docile enough not to expect promotions. I’m not sure if anyone told her that the Navy didn’t employ married women, but in any case, she soon married and gave up the best job she ever had.

She and her husband-to-be, a lowly soldier stationed at Fort Belvoir near DC, drove home for their wedding. Mom sewed me a spring-like dress of yellow and white, but it was cold with snow on the ground. Our Lutheran pastor delivered one of his usual long sermons, and my younger sister, the flower girl, fell asleep on the altar steps. That reception was in the church basement, and no one drank. The meal included olives, and after we discovered them, my brother and I saved money from our paper route to buy olives.

Sis lived with us three times after we moved to Arkansas, as her husband moved up the career ladder with overseas assignments. She always worked, having found an employer who valued her enough to rehire her each time she came back. Mom took care of the two boys she had the first time, and Sis was seven months pregnant when she joined her soldier in Germany. The four of them lived with us again while he went to Officer Candidate School. The last time, there were six kids and she rented a house nearby. Her husband was a pilot by then, and when they were going to send him to Vietnam for a fourth time, he called it quits. They had their 50th party at a country club in Columbus, Georgia, but celebrated their 60th with just a quiet dinner in Virginia, where several of their children and our daughter live. They will be taking their RV to Arkansas, as will some of their children and grandchildren.

“The Second Crop” – My Brother and Me

No one, including my parents, ever has been able to explain why nine years passed before they had two more children – eighteen months apart. My slightly older brother met the love of his life while in the Air Force in Amarillo, Texas, and they married there on the weekend of July 4th. Again Mom sewed my dress, a lilac color of the fabric that was called “whipped cream” crepe. The Lutheran church in which the wedding was held was new, and the air conditioning didn’t function properly; it was so hot that the ring bearer, my Minnesota nephew, fainted – as did the best man, even though he was a Texan. The soloist and organist miscommunicated on what song they were doing, and the flower girl cried loudly throughout because she didn’t want her aunt to get married.

Again, things worked out. After several years of working in the Texas oil fields, he missed the green Ozarks enough to move the family back home. Their kids grew up in Arkansas, but one returned to Texas; another lives in Phoenix with his Hungarian wife. Their three adult grandchildren are doing well, but their lives have been greatly enriched by two darling half-Mexican granddaughters who live nearby in Arkansas. They decided to hold a party at their 40th, unwilling to take the chance that everyone would be alive for a 50th. A professional blue grass band sang in their big yard, and we enjoyed beer and barbeque. On their 50th, they took a mountain train trip.

I was the first not to have a proper wedding. I was in graduate school in Massachusetts, and the Army kindly decided to send Future Hubby to an assignment nearby. When he had to leave for Washington, I left with him. I bought my lacy but short wedding dress at famous Boston’s Filene Basement before we left. After we got to DC, we looked up a Lutheran pastor who refused to marry us because we didn’t belong to his church, so we went to the chaplain at the University of Maryland. Sis flew up from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Hubby’s brother already lived in Maryland. Counting one old friend and the very fine chaplain, we had six people at our February wedding. There was a foot of snow, and I had to wear boots before changing into my new white heels. Still have them.

So we were eager to have a big celebration for our 25th, which we did at the Rusty Pelican on Rocky Point. All but one of my siblings came, and Hubby’s brother, a very somber engineer who had been his best man, gave a surprisingly funny speech. It’s nice to have that on video tape, as he has died. For our 50th, we took a Caribbean cruise with six other family members, including our daughter and son-in-law.

The Last Crop

My younger brother emulated me in not having a proper wedding. He met his bride-to-be after his Air Force service (in Thailand), and she was appreciably younger and shy – so it was just pretty much them and her Baptist preacher. They did have nice weddings for their daughter in Arkansas and son in Oklahoma, so we are hopeful that they also will do something celebratory when they reach their 50th in a couple of years. The discovery of natural gas on their land has made their retirement comfortable, and they will be coming in their RVs.

I truly regret that I didn’t attend the wedding of my sister whose 50th comes up this weekend. I was teaching then in Massachusetts, where school goes on until mid-June, and flying in and out for just a day or two was way too expensive back then. Nor did I really expect their marriage to last, as they wed just two weeks after she graduated from high school – and he was our school’s number one discipline problem. But they had a proper Lutheran wedding, settled down, and built perhaps the least-stressed marriage I know. In 50 years of many shared vacations, I’ve never heard them say an angry word to each other. Who would have thought it back then?

She loves her career in food vending, and he’s been a happy house husband for several years now. Their son sells banking software internationally and is married to German woman who is a professor in Minneapolis – something that thrills my Minnesota family. Said son and wife will be fixing brats on Friday evening; said househusband will make his famous barbeque on Saturday; and on Sunday, they have reservations for eighty at a nice restaurant. Yes, eighty members of his and her families. It should be so much fun!

And I apologize if you think this column is egocentric, but I’ll be back to raving about politics and stuff next week.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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