Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Extended Family Gathering

If you've been following this blog you will remember that last September I went out to Wyoming with my dad (and met up with other family members) to see my uncle Bernard... or uncle Barney as many call him. He had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and I wanted to make sure my dad got out there to see his brother one last time. It was an important visit for all of us and I'm glad we went when we did as Barney passed away on Christmas eve... exactly 89 years and 8 months from when he was born.

Barney was the oldest of the siblings and the second one to pass away. He was by far the most talkative of the siblings and moved around the most. Probably his favorite job he started in his 50's when he worked on the Alaska pipeline as a diesel mechanic. As the youngest niece I didn't get to know him quite like some of my cousins, but we did bond over family history. He had a connection to a part of the family that most didn't and swears that we are related to Jesse James. Sure wish I wrote down the story. Before my aunt passed away 11 years ago she asked some friends in Wyoming to look after Barney and they kept up their end of the bargain. My cousin, Barney's only son, died a few years ago in a plane crash so these friends of his were so incredibly important since the rest of his family was so far away.

Barney's friends, who were really like family to him, helped arrange the funeral and even drove Barney back to be buried in Mora, MN next to his wife, Peggy. We waited for warmer weather to arrive and finally had his funeral this past weekend. Initially, my dad and I were going to drive up on Monday for the funeral, but we found out that many people were planning to stay in Hinkley the night before so we decided to as well. 

Side note: half the party got rooms at the casino, but then the hotel sold out so the rest of us had to stay at another hotel the casino owns. It was only $29.99 a night which scared us all, but it wasn't too terrible. My room smelled pretty bad - turns out that it was from an air purifier, and my bed was hard, but the room was 30 bucks so I got past it. My dad stayed with my uncle Lester and their room smelled fine.

After checking in we went over to the casino and had the back room of one of the restaurant areas all to ourselves which was really nice (especially since multiple people in our party are hard of hearing). We had family and friends gather from all over Minnesota, Wyoming, and California. It will likely be the only time we'll get this group of people together so I'm really glad we decided to go the day before the funeral.

Uncle Lester and my dad. Lester will be 89 in July and my dad just turned 87.

My cousin Leann and her daughter (whom I'd never met before). Leann and I last saw each other about 10 - 13 years ago.

After several hours visiting and eating we headed back to the hotel where, thanks to medication, I got a better sleep than expected. I did wake up multiple times (which is the norm for me) with my hand completely asleep (which is not the norm), but I assume that can be blamed on the hard bed. I did hear a little too much neighbor action at one point, but thankfully sleep overcame me.

The next morning my hotel room smelled so much better, but I didn't have time to luxuriate in it as I spent a little time with family and friends down at the continental breakfast and then headed back to the casino for a real breakfast.

While there we went through some old boxes of pictures and slides (remember when people used those?). I was given my aunts old camera and my cousins took the rest. The casino was nice enough to give us another private area and even offered to let us plug in the projector to view the slides if we wanted (we didn't get around to it).

Eventually, we packed up and crossed our fingers that the rain would subside enough for us to enjoy our graveside ceremony. We headed over to Mora and met up with some more cousins. My uncle wasn't a religious man so we decided to have something pretty simple at the graveside. One of my uncle's best friends is a character named George and he provided a detailed and humorous account of my uncle's life. It was followed by a reading of his obituary, a poem by Baxter Black that couldn't have been more perfect, and a few words by my cousin. We ended the ceremony by each pouring some dirt from the red river valley that he grew up in (it was actually from the old family farm in Harold's Station, MN that my cousin just stopped by and quickly dug up some dirt) and some dirt from Wyoming. It was incredibly well thought out and a perfect way to say goodbye to my uncle.

My uncle lived in many places: Minnesota, Colorado, Arizona, Alaska, Peru, Wyoming... so his friend Terri tried to find flowers to represent all these places. Another very thought out and touching detail.

That's George in the overalls above. He ALWAYS wears the overalls. I imagine his closet is filled with them. The things he says, the way he laughs, just something about him seems like some character on TV or something. It's like I want to study him as I've never quite met anyone like him before. I'm a little sad that I will probably never cross paths with him again.

The red river valley dirt is black and the Wyoming dirt is red. Go figure.

Terri holding a picture of Barney.

The headstone has pictures of the Alaska pipeline, the Wyoming mountains, and a picture of his beloved Hudson car which he had when he met his wife.

After the funeral we all headed back to Hinkley to eat together again. We decided to give the casino a break and instead found another restaurant to partially take over. More pictures were spread out and distributed to the cousins. I found some from our trip to Golden, Colorado back in 1979 that I was pleased to bring home with me.

Above, my cousin, Kathy, shows us a picture of uncle Barney holding one of her daughters who he nicknamed Kojak since she was so bald as a baby. Apparently, as an adult she's still referred to from time to time with this nickname.

And then we all headed home. It was a wonderful celebration of my uncle's life with some of the people closest to him. It brought a lot of family together that don't get to see each other very often (and as my dad half joked, probably won't see each other again until the next funeral). We were all very lucky to have known Barney and I feel grateful to be a part of such a wonderful family.

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