This weekend Jerry and I went to a family reunion of his father’s side held in Merlin, Oregon, a mile north of Grant‘s Pass. It’s in the high hills of southern Oregon where summers are sunny, hot and dry. The gathering was far out in the country in the back yard of one of the participants. Most set up campers and tents. There was a creek running past, a badminton net and various games. The dinners were barbeques.
The reunion consisted of descendents of one woman: a Finnish immigrant named Adeline — the great great grandmother of the youngest person present, a baby named Adeline.
The Finnish Adeline was Jerry’s grandmother, his father Lauri ‘s mother. Besides Lauri she had a daughter, Ann. Lauri had 2 sons, Jerry and Bert. Ann had 5 children, Marcia, Leslie, Mel, Helen and Henry. Six of those 7 cousins, all getting old, were at the reunion. Jerry’s brother Bert was missing. He stayed home to have a biopsy of a lung tumor.
Besides Jerry’s cousins and their spouses (and ex-spouses) there were the children and grandchildren of his cousins. Of those present for the reunion Marcia’s husband Bill was the oldest (85) and the youngest were babies in their first year of life. There were about 40 people in all, a number of dogs (including our Daisy and Fluffy) and one goat. I gave up trying to remember who belonged to whom. When I first arrived at the reunion site Cousin Henry introduced me to his ex-wife. Then he introduced me to his ex-wife’s present husband, doffing his baseball cap and declaring, “He’s my good friend, a better man than I, I freely admit.”
The next day Marcia’s son put his arm around me in a friendly way and explained that Mel’s wife, the mother of his daughter Amanda, was his first wife, then he divorced her and married somebody else, had some more children (who came to the reunion later on), then divorced the second wife and remarried the original one.
Jerry enjoyed the reunion — to a point. Here he’s talking to his first cousin once removed, Anna Lee (daughter of Henry) about Finland. She took a trip to Finland and learned to speak some Finnish. Adeline is her baby.
He gets fatigued by crowds of people, but Bert would have had the time of his life. Bert is a year and a half younger than Jerry. He is a life long bachelor with many friends. He is talkative and energetic and has done well for himself economically buying and selling property, airplanes and other stuff.
Bert doesn’t always finish what he starts and has frequent disputes with people who run things. He has had arguments with the Noxious Weed board, the IRS, neighborhood homeowners associations and various taxing authorities.
He has projects: he builds houses, buys and renovates old buildings, paints by numbers, restores old cars or tries crafts like pottery (at one time he sent us about 25 mugs.) He keeps chickens and quail (but the quail all flew away.) Every year he buys a few cows in the spring and sells them in the fall. He has a house in eastern Washington, one in the San Juan Islands and one in Arizona. He has a couple of airplanes and parts of airplanes most of which are not in good repair. He has a couple of hangars filled with an array of scattered tools, machines, and things he has collected or scavenged, but he hasn‘t done any flying for some years. Jerry says Bert’s buildings are always built in his own way. Sometimes he runs afoul of the building codes.
Bert hasn’t much formal education, but he reads widely. He has a passing familiarity with many subjects and has opinions about almost everything. One day when Bert and my British granddaughter Catherine were both visiting us (she was, at the time, about 15) I found them cheerfully chatting together about string theory.
Every few weeks Jerry calls Bert and they talk for around an hour. Bert does most of the talking. I hear Jerry say, uh huh, (long pause) oh yeah? (long pause) how many chickens you got now? (long pause) a few more uh huh‘s, then a chuckle, and how’s Jim (or Paul.) Then more long pauses. Then Jerry says well, okay several times (with more long pauses), a last well okay, call you again soon. And finally a bye.
What did Bert have to say, I ask. Oh, not much, says Jerry.
Finns often have heart trouble, and both Jerry and Bert have had heart problems. Bert has had a bypass operation. Last winter, as he does every winter, he stayed at his place in Arizona. In one of the long phone calls Bert complained of chest pains and shortness of breath. We worried about his heart, but he wanted to wait until he got back to his good weather home in eastern Washington to go to his regular doctor.
In late May he got an appointment. A chest x-ray revealed a tumor in his lungs and fluid in the chest cavity. Then there was an appointment with pulmonologist who said the tumor looked asbestos related. Next an appointment for imaging. This showed possible spreading of the tumor to lymph nodes. Next the definitive test — a biopsy. No results until after the 4th of July, but we all think we know the outcome.
All of this is totally unexpected. Both Jerry and Bert assumed that in the end heart disease would carry them off. Bert says he won’t have chemotherapy and he doesn’t want to be in a nursing home. He can come to us and stay in our little guest apartment. We have good hospice care here. It helped my mother in her last days.
Bert would have enjoyed seeing all the old pictures that were brought to the reunion. He would have had lots to talk about with his cousins, some of whom he hasn’t seen for more than 50 years. Some of the cousins were in the medical marijuana business and that would have interested Bert. He would have been amused at the young people
and the children trying to play badminton amongst the romping dogs.
All of the 6 cousins said they will try to visit Bert soon.
Everyone at the reunion had something to contribute. Among the things Jerry brought was an old letter from Finland that his mother, Helen, had kept. It was from a family friend and in Finnish, but a friend here on Lummi Island translated it for us. Here’s a quote from the letter:
“I don’t remember if I told you that father’s older brother died about a year ago. His wife died a year after. Their son, Matti Hietaranta, who was a professor at Helsinki University, died also at the same time in the morning. He had gone home with some kind of fatal disease. He was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, but his soul was already gone. This left only one unmarried aunt. She was very old. Gradually, as time passes by, they pass away.”