Summary: Your choices today will affect your family tomorrow.
My mother was a Wenger.
Her great-grandparents migrated from Basel, Switzerland, to Ontario, Canada, in 1835. Seventeen years later they chose to move to Iowa. They traveled in a covered wagon and just before they crossed the border into the U.S. someone stole all their clothing. All they had left was what was on their backs.
They had 10 children, one of whom was my great-grandfather Joseph who chose to stay in Iowa until he died at age 79 from a disease called “grip.” He and his wife had 11 children. When he died the newspaper said “Joe Wenger did not bother his head much about politics or affairs of state, but he taught his children honesty, industry, and good conduct, and he lived to see the fruits and labors that were well nurtured and flourishing. He was a fine man. His only diversion was attendance at the Amish church of which he was a lifelong member. A splendid, faithful, and worthy man has gone to his reward.”
One of those 11 children was my grandfather Ed. He and his 3 brothers were all farmers. Together they decided to buy a large steam engine and threshing machine and kept quite busy during the summer. This meant long days of dust, heat and hard work. However, there were compensations. Since the job involved a large number of farmers, there was a spirit of neighborliness and visiting which added interest to the task.
Ed chose to marry Elizabeth. Their first baby died of diphtheria at seven months. They themselves were placed under quarantine for 6 weeks and not allowed to leave home. My mother was born after two older sisters, before a younger brother. They all had to work at home and none of them was able to go to high school even though they wanted to. As a young person, my mother said that when she had a son she wanted to call him Richard. She didn’t know then that all 4 of her children would have that name.
There are now more than 800 living descendants in this Wenger clan. For 50 years, this large family got together every summer for a reunion in a large shelter house at the fairgrounds. I remember the long tables of food, meat and sandwiches at one end and yummy desserts at the other. The next best thing to the good food was the fun we had playing with the cousins, telling stories, & arguing about cars and tractors, while the adults caught up with each other’s families, farming operations, and other things. But we always came in for the program because it always included Lucy who was almost blind, but she could play the accordion very well.
This year, the Wengers will not re-une. The person in charge of the reunion asked people about their interest and it didn’t seem strong enough to continue. Of course, the Wengers are scattered all over the globe now and even those close by have been voting with their feet for a long time.
It is not easy for families these days. I suppose lots of things made it seem right to discontinue the Wenger family reunion, including the fact that people like myself haven’t been there in many years. But even on a smaller scale, lots of things seem to work against strong family relationships.
• Recent news has not been good for families. Last week a mother killed two children. The story of Laci Peterson’s death is in the news again. We hear of child abuse, spouse abuse, and abuse of the elderly. And in yesterday’s local paper five more divorces were announced.
• Even though everybody knows that divorce makes things more difficult for kids, it has become easier to get in some places. In Lincoln County, Wash., couples don’t need to appear before a judge. All they need to do is just write a letter to the judge.
• Parental supervision is a problem. A leading expert on family life says we have trouble minding our children. Kids come home from school to find no one there. They identify with their peer group, often leading to unwholesome activities. And school teachers complain that parents don’t take responsibility for their children.
• Employers put the bottom line at the top of their priority and don’t seem to care about families, asking workers to put in 12-hour days or to work over holidays, leaving little time for parents to be with their families.
• And television movies ridicule traditional family values.
May is family month. We all recognize the necessity of strong families. We all want families that stay together, play together, and pray together. Everyone has a part: children, parents, grandparents, uncles & aunts. There are choices we can make to strengthen family relationships: