Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Aug. 6, 2010

Food, falling chairs and family

My family has always been a bit reserved. Husband Art says his Vaughan family was that way, too.

But that certainly isn't a description I'd apply to Art's Mom's family. When the Herrmanns gather, something unusual is bound to happen and the laughing will be heard for some distance.

This past weekend was the annual Herrmann reunion and I wasn't disappointed. Art's second cousin Arden showed up sporting a chrome dome - the result of chemotherapy. Before anyone could say anything, she announced a friend had told her she had the nicest-shaped head she'd ever seen. I had to agree.

Her husband Bob added that he checked his tires before coming this year - a sideways jab at the fact that two years ago when they had come out of the house to leave in the late evening, they were greeted not just by a flat tire, but a mostly-flat spare as well.

Not much time had elapsed when Arden began to fret about where son Carl was as he had been expected much earlier. The cell phone service is iffy where the reunion was held, but Art hangs on to his decrepit old phone just because it is unusually sensitive. Before long, he reached Carl. Despite having been there four times before, Carl had taken a wrong turn and was some miles to the south, but promised he'd be there soon.

Next Art's cousin's son drove in ... over the edge of the wood pile. The logs fit perfectly between the front and rear wheels on the driver's side, quickly immobilizing the car.

Art was taking this all in near his cousins Chip, Marcy, Lisa and Dave. Their mother, Art's Aunt Sue, joined them and had barely sat down when the narrow feet of the chair dug into the lawn, softened by recent rains. In a scene that looked as if it had been choreographed for a movie, Sue v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y tipped over to her right ... not fast enough to avoid the inevitable, but slow enough she was able to hand her drink to Chip so none was spilled.

When the laughing quelled, it was announced that she was the second to suffer such a fate.

That episode had barely passed when the rear legs of Marcy's chair bit in and she went over backwards.

More laughter.

But Art told me that none of these things came close to the "best" one. That happened a few years before I met him. His cousin Chuck had bought a speedboat that was anything but new and was eager to try it out. He fired up the engine and shot out to the middle of the lake where the boat promptly split in half and sank unceremoniously to the bottom.

Art's brother Tommy coined the term "the curse of Chucky," in honor of that event and an earlier one. Chuck had once persuaded his Dad to buy a Corvette. They hadn't put any insurance on it yet and with the garage full, they parked it in the middle of the front lawn to protect if from street traffic. That night, on what was a very quiet residential street, a fellow came zipping along, jumped the curb and smashed right into the car.

This is not to say that all Herrmann amusement involves some disaster. I enjoyed chatting with Art's cousin Kris's daughter Sarah, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She had just completed 10 months in the West African country of Senegal as part of an exchange program. I also spoke with her older brother Ben who mentioned he had landed a permanent science and math teaching position in Madison and had just completed teaching a summer school math class. I asked if he was excited, but before he could answer, his dad Jim chimed in from the grill, "I'm just glad he has medical insurance now!" - possibly a reference to the fact that Ben has taken up riding a motorcycle.

When the conversation turned to the weather and how muggy it was, several mentioned how bad the mosquitoes have been. I showed off the numerous welts on my ankles and arms, but Tommy - a master of trivia - topped that by announcing he had recently heard that the state has 54 varieties of mosquitoes. I'm still trying to figure out just what to do with that piece of information.

As the day drew to a close, a bunch of us went on the lake with the pontoon boat. Kris' yellow lab Willow joined us, but quickly became frantic whenever anyone jumped in to swim. Her instincts to "save" them drove her crazy.

Finally, about 10:30 p.m., with darkness closing in hard and our bellies full of brats, hamburger and chicken, we all headed for our vehicles, tired, yet hesitant to leave the fun. The food had been tasty, the stories were informative and funny and people falling from chairs had provided memorable entertainment.

Certainly NOT a subdued Freeland or Vaughan get-together!

Left: Reunion in 1992 when Kris, Maria and I were all pregnant at the same time.
Hannah, Katie and David are now healthy 17-year-olds, and moms Kris and I
are doing well, but Maria died in January 2009. Right: Art's second cousin Arden
sitting next to son Carl with hubby Bob behind.

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