Family Provides A Witness To Committed Love
For 52 years the descendants of Oliver William and Clara Rose (Peter) Hagedorn have traveled the roller coaster hills of Perry County, Ind., on Sunday of Labor Day weekend to celebrate a day of food, fun, and family. The reunion, which has evolved over the years, is a staple on the family calendar. No invitations are sent. Everyone knows to appear by noon with covered dishes in hand. An outdoor Mass, celebrated by a Benedictine priest from St. Meinrad, signals the beginning of the party, although preparations had begun hours before.
Our three uncles, Ed, Joe, and John, grilled chickens; some years as many as 75 halves. Orders were placed a few weeks in advance, and the uncles came early on Sunday morning to light the half-barrel grills. By the time the rest of the family arrived, chicken steamed in large pots, and our cooks were sharing stories along with tastes of their product. Those duties have been passed down to the second and third generations (in-laws included) with a still watchful eye from two of the original crew.
When the horseshoe 3-acre lake was built in 1965, one permanent shelter house served the needs of the family. However, as we 33 grandchildren became grandparents, collectively, of l05 children who have blessed the family with a current count of 113 great great-grandchildren (more are promised), two large temporary tents are now necessities. While many family members do not make it on a yearly basis, picnic attendees typically average well over 100.
In the early years of the picnic, Grandpa threw out the first pitch of a friendly baseball game held in the pasture above the lake. Later years found us cousins and our spouses in some fiercely contested volleyball games on a makeshift court until our age and our own children replaced us in the competitions. Now we watch our children watch their children swimming, boating and fishing around that same lake.
The years passed quickly; too quickly. But the memories of our childhoods are rekindled each September. Growing up in Indianapolis, my siblings and I were fortunate to experience farm life for a week or two each summer. We helped collect eggs, pick vegetables, bring in the cows and gather blackberries on roadside fences. My favorite chore was the Monday laundry – done on the back porch in a wringer washer.
Grandpa hauled hot water from the kitchen sink in galvanized buckets while Grandma and I gathered and sorted the loads. For a few hours, I was fascinated by the process of washing, wringing, and hanging out a week’s worth of laundry. Whites were first, followed by a succession of color, light to dark (adding more water as needed) until the final load – Grandpa’s farm overalls – turned the water to chocolate soup. Returning from the fields in the afternoon, Grandpa hauled the remaining water to the gardens. Nothing was wasted.
Like so many small farmers of that era, their lives depended on accomplishing the tasks of the day. It was a life steeped in routine, faith and family. We spent our evenings and free time listening to family stories on the front porch, playing euchre at the kitchen table or walking three miles down a dusty rock road to our cousins’ farm (yes, Jimmy, we measured it!). We were never bored.
There is a sign that hangs in the shelter house, the kind sold typically in gift shops. It reads “All because two people fell in love.” While the sentiment is sweet, I think it lacks the depth of our grandparents’ marriage. Instead, I believe it needs to read, “All because two people remained committed in their love.”
Falling in love is easy. As most of us are aware, the difficulty lies in remaining true to our promises when life is challenging. Every September our family is reminded of the blessings bequeathed to us by the courage of our grandparents’ steadfast devotion to the vows they made 91 years ago. Our modern world could benefit from more role models like Clara and Oliver.