"2 : something of special value handed on from one generation to another " – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Reunions and sleepovers~

on May 29, 2013

Just a few years before grandma died, I had begun doing some genealogy research with her. These were the early days of the internet, when dial-up was the standard, and connections were as slow as molasses in January. I had come home to Logan one weekend and brought Phil’s new laptop with me so that grandma and I could try to do some searching on discussion boards for any information on the Gaff side of the family tree, Great-grandma Hazel Gaff Herron’s family. We hit the jackpot and found a board with a Gaff post. We emailed the contact, Dorothy Gaff, and she responded a few weeks later and we began exchanging family details and information.

After a few weeks of this kind of communication, I received this message on August 22, 2000:

Dear Patty, I thought maybe you and your grandmother would be interested in this>


Grandma with Great-aunt Jessie at a reunion at the carousel in June of 2001. They are either laughing with Phil or AT Phil- hard to know for sure!

Sunday, August 27, 2000

92nd Gaff Family Reunion

Christian Life Building

Churubusco Nazarene Church

Lunch at 1:00 pm

Drinks will be provided.

Hope to see you there!!

That was in just five days! There was nothing that grandma Conn loved more than a reunion- time together with her family – stories shared, memories shared, love shared. Grandma was always planning a reunion or planning to attend an upcoming reunion- family, high school or otherwise – grandma just loved any opportunity to visit and catch up with family and friends. For years, grandma wondered about this side of her family tree that she had lost all contact with since moving to Logansport at a very young age. So, even with such short notice, we all knew that there was nothing to stop us from going to that reunion.

I was living in the Chicago area. Margaret was 7 and Rachel was 3 but we loaded up the van and headed south to Logan. It had been almost two years since grandpa had died and Aunt Shirley was living with grandma at that time. All of us piled into mom’s van, grandma, mom, Aunt Shirley, I and my girls, and headed off to Churubusco for the reunion. Since I knew I would be driving, I had mapped out a route that I felt would be most expeditious on an Indiana August afternoon, four lanes most of the way, avoiding the hay bailers, tractors and plows that can slow down the narrow country highways. We were well on our way on Highway 24 East when grandma noticed the route I had chosen from the back seat and became greatly agitated. It was our very own Driving Miss Daisy moment. Regardless, I knew we would get there in good time and assured her of that in my best Morgan Freeman voice.

We arrived shortly after 1 p.m. and the moment we set foot in that fellowship hall, I knew for certain that my navigational transgression was forgiven. On the wall opposite us was a 30 foot long banner, about 4 feet wide, running the length of the hall. On the banner was the Gaff / Fleck family tree, tracing our family back to the first Fleck immigrants from England in the 1700’s. We were greeted and welcomed by several of the folks gathered there and then we made our way over to the banner. After just a little searching, we found our branch on this long, detailed tree. But our branch of family information had not been completed. It had ended just after my mom was born in 1940 and before Aunt Shirley was born in 1943. We laughed at that- here was Aunt Shirley, standing at the reunion at the age of 57, but it was as if she did not yet exist!

And the other fascinating thing to me was that I could see my features and the faces of my family in this room full of strangers. Truly, there was a woman standing there who could have been Great-aunt Jessie’s twin sister! Grandma had a wonderful afternoon, sharing information and gathering information from other family elders there. We exchanged some additional information with Dorothy and promised to keep in touch. After that day, grandma and I spent some lovely late evenings going through some old photos and family keepsakes.

During one of our late night visits, we came across this family reunion photo. It was rolled up and there is extensive damage and wear but can you spot grandma? She was just 3 years old when this photo was taken in 1916. I imagine that this reunion would have been a lot of fun on the farm in Churubusco, with lemonade and pies, pit-roasted pork and potatoes. And here’s another cool thing about this photo: either genetics is a pretty amazing thing or my cousin, Steve, is a Time Lord. According to all of the family tree data I have from grandma, Steve was born in the early 60s (and I am pretty certain this is accurate because he graduated one year after I did!). But when I look at this photograph, darned if I don’t see my cousin Steve, staring back at me from that barn door in 1916!

July 8, 1916, The Russell 50th Anniversary Reunion

July 8, 1916, The Russell 50th Anniversary Reunion

Great-grandma Hazel (Gaff) Herron with my great uncle Joe, age 2 years, on her lap, and (grandma) Evelyn, age 4 years, next to Uncle Joe. Seated next to Hazel is her mother-in-law, Almeda (Russell) Herron and her father-in-law, Anderson Herron (my great-great grandparents on the Herron side).

Great-grandma Hazel (Gaff) Herron with my great uncle Joe, age 2 years, on her lap, and (grandma) Evelyn, age 4 years, next to Uncle Joe. Seated next to Hazel is her mother-in-law, Almeda (Russell) Herron and her father-in-law, Anderson Herron (my great-great grandparents on the Herron side).


The handsome gentleman standing in the shirt and tie is Merle Herron, my great-grandfather. Seated in front of him are James Russell, Jr. and Elener (Hawks) Russell, my great-great-great grandparents.


My Time Lord cousin, Steve!

Grandma named many of the faces for me but, in my thoughtlessness, none were written down. It did not occur to me that we had so little time left to take care of those things.

I remember coming back to Chicago after one of my late night grandma visits and going to see my cousin, Cathy in Naperville. I shared a story with her that grandma had told me. Neither of us had ever heard this story from grandma before. Cathy shared that story with her sister, Janie, the next time they talked on the phone and together they hatched a plan.

Cathy called me and said that she and Janie wanted us to have a granddaughter sleepover at grandma’s on her next birthday (February 1st). Truly an inspired idea, I knew that grandma would LOVE it! We knew we could get her to talk and share and we could pull out the old slide projector and laugh. Grandma was a notorious night owl and would probably put us all to bed.

And so it was. We gathered at grandma’s on the Saturday night of her birthday week and spent the night with her: Janie, Cathy, me, Terri, and Nicole and Emily (great-granddaughters). We pulled out some old photos and trunks and heard some really great stories. Some that we had already heard before, and some that we never thought we would ever hear. What happens at grandma’s, stays at grandma’s! It was a very special night for all of us and the best present we ever could have given her, although we all knew that this gift was really for ourselves.

On Sunday morning, we arose. Janie cooked a pound of bacon on the stove and Aunt Shirley whipped up some pancakes. We all ate and dressed and accompanied grandma to church. Grandma was so proud and so elated to have us all there together, she stood up during the announcements to tell everyone why her pew was full that day, why her heart was full that day.

A few weeks later, I picked up the roll of film I had developed from that month. I had only one photo of that night but I am certain there are others out there. I remember taking this picture– it was just before we started the slide show in her living room. Immediately, my first thought flew out of my mouth, “ugh! I look awful!” Phil looked over my shoulder and said to me softly, “Look at your grandma.”

Yes, look at my grandma. She is radiant. Surrounded by those she loved and who loved her back, she is radiant. This was grandma’s last birthday in 2001, her 88th birthday, and the following summer, the picture of her with great-aunt Jessie and Phil above, was her last reunion. But I so look forward to seeing her again someday.

Back: Terri, Grandma, Emily Front: Janie, Me, Nicole and Cathy

Back: Terri, Grandma, Emily
Front: Janie, Me, Nicole and Cathy


2 responses to “Reunions and sleepovers~

  1. Cathy Schaefer says:

    Oh Patty, I got teary reading this…. I was just thinking about that sleepover with Grandma recently. That was such a fun evening! I’m so glad we did that and wonder why we waited so long?! Life moves much too quickly, and we are constantly challenged to “sieze the day” and consciously choose to make the time for creating special memories like this! Thanks for ANOTHER wonderful essay.

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