Whew. Here is another topic I didn’t plan to write about, but I spent most of Friday at the funeral, followed by what we hereabouts call the “bereavement dinner,” of my cousin Donna Mae Rohr, who died this week at age 78. I have missed a lot of these in my past 40 years away from home.
I missed the funeral of Donna’s mother, Aunt Ollie, the cheeriest and most fun of aunts, who played in the 1940s women’s baseball leagues, made famous by the movie, A League of Their Own. I did make it to the funeral of Donna’s father, Uncle Carl, clearly the wryest and funniest of uncles—or at least in the top three funniest, along with my Uncle Les—who was the coach of Aunt Ollie’s league, and from what I have heard, a prototype for the Tom Hanks’s character in A League. Along with my sister, I sobbed and sobbed at the calling hours for Uncle Carl, and Donna Mae, who should have been receiving consolations from us, put her arms around us and said, “Girls, don’t cry. Dad had a wonderful life.”
That was a point that Donna’s granddaughter, Taylor, made in her remarks at the funeral: that Donna had had 79 good years and three rough weeks at the end, when she struggled under the effects of a brain lesion. “Seventy-nine good years and three hard weeks is what I call a good life,” said Taylor. And I’d agree, except that I’d add that Donna spent several of those years as caretaker for both her husband, Glenn, who died after a long difficult cancer, and later her mother, who spent her last years in a cheerful dementia but finally in days of pain before she died. My dad showed up and spent some time with Donna during Aunt Ollie’s last hours, but Donna was there to the end, as she was with Glenn. Having now spent the last 24 hours alone with two of my family members that died, I know what hard work it is, and what important work. Maybe it isn’t work. It is definitely important.
But Donna was never actually a Kendig in name. Her father’s surname was Herman, and most of her life, she was a Rohr, having married Glen Rohr. And though my cousin, she was nearly a generation older than me, closer to my dad, who thought of her as a little sister. He is holding her in his arms in a photo of the family taken shortly before he left for World War II.
Still, if you are a Kendig, one thing you do is you show up for things, especially funerals and weddings, and since I haven’t been showing up during my past eleven years in Boston, I wanted to show up, especially for Donna’s oldest daughter, Patty, who is closer to my age than her mom. Six other Kendig cousins were there on this Friday afternoon, as were four aunts and uncles, all octo- or nona-generians.
The only thing that Kendigs do as well as showing up is eating, and since the dinner was provided by the VFW members of Canal Fulton, Ohio, there was a lot of very good Midwest cooking to eat: ham and cheese sandwiches, tossed salads with sweet dressing, lots of casseroles, including lasagna, and desserts—many homemade pies, including elderberry, and cheesecake, and that dessert with graham cracker crumbs and canned cherries and Dream Whip, which I know is a petroleum by-product I make fun of and love despite myself and did eat yesterday.
Kendigs really aren’t drinkers, but when the VFW announced we could get drinks downstairs, most went down and got a glass of white zinfandel and nearly passed out from surprise to find it was free. I know in a lot of families that might lead to a second glass of wine, but not among this clan.
Oh, and the other thing you do if you are a Kendig is talk, which is really why we were the last ones left at the VFW and not because we ate all that much. We are now caught up on nearly everyone and everything, the ten of us who were there. The rest of you need to catch up. Isn’t it about time for a reunion without a funeral or wedding?
While I don’t intend to make a habit of posting poems here, I do have one about the Kendigs whose form poets might be interested in and one I invented based on an exercise by Susan Mitchell in The Practice of Poetry. Mitchell’s exercise was to write a 6-stanza poem with stanzas of three lines, ending in nesting rhymes, also called “diminishing rhyme,” and the example Mitchell gives is of ocean/motion/emotion. (This being English, they need have exact spelling but sound, and in some cases, I have stretched even that.) I expanded on Mitchell’s exercised in two ways. First, in some poems, instead of putting the nesting rhymes in diminishing order, I put then in what I call “augmenting rhymes:” emotion, motion, ocean. Second, I made the lines lengths mirror the diminishment or augmentation, growing longer if I was using augmenting rhyme, shorter if using diminishing rhymes. This poem moves both ways and takes liberty with rhyme by using slant rhyme. Two other poems of this type have been published at Poemeleon, and you can find them here: http://www.poemeleon.org/diane-kendig2/
FOURTH OF JULY KENDIG FAMILY REUNION
FOURTH OF JULY KENDIG FAMILY REUNION
Setting out Aunt Ollie's chicken, Uncle Les's melon basket, iced tea,
noodle dishes and some Italian in-law's tortellini, we cease all this mobility
to pay attention to the eight remaining oldest Kendigs, their dear indomitability.
"The Thirteen," as we still call the siblings, had a lifetime
of difficulty. "The Great Depression? Whew! A time
you don't want to hear about, but since I'm
started now...." Friends that I have brought in
have laughed how, when they call for photo-taking, the eldest kin
are "kids." We're grand and our kids are great. We mean that under the skin
we have the stuff of Bess and Harry, a well-wed pair with manifold
capacity to reproduce and rear. The four youngest of their fold
are World War II vets, but don't call them old,
and don't expect star-spangled frou-farrah, group games or anybody's speech.
We talk and eat, this repository of recipes, these mound-builders of peach
and strawberry and chocolate heaped desserts. We speak to each
aunt and uncle; despite three who after the factory work no longer hear,
one oxygen tank, six canes, a Chemo-damaged appetite, both mild and severe
Alzheimer's. They meet here yearly on this date to do as they have always
done: they persevere.
done: they persevere.