Posted by: Bill Tracy | August 19, 2016

Do I Know You?

One generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the earth abides for ever.
-Ecclesiastes

 

I got to the lake before most anyone in the family. It was too hot for 10 AM, even in July, and the humidity felt tropical. I found slight refuge under a tired overhead fan in the “snack bar” and settled in with a fresh coffee to wait.

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The old lake.

Sixty years ago I was a 10-year-old watching the heavy screen doors bang shut in the snack bar. I had recalled that sound the night before, and it hasn’t changed a bit. Small children and big people in bathing suits were still banging through those doors and buying too expensive soft drinks, water toys, candy bars, tanning creams. Young folks wearing “staff” t-shirts and lifeguard gear forced me their best grudging smiles. They probably don’t see many old men in street clothes (long pants and shirts) hanging out in the snack bar for an hour or two. The whole place has a strict prohibition against alcohol so I wasn’t indulging that refuge. I had come for the past, and I felt very much like a visitor from a distant time. Most residents of this time took little notice of me.

Through screened windows I looked out over the tranquil lake. Little was changed from 60 years ago. Small children waded carefully, even warily into shallow waters at the shoreline. Farther out, older children launched themselves gleefully off platforms into the cool cedar waters of South Jersey. Older children and adults picked up younger children and flung them into the air, screeching as they sailed briefly over their inevitable water landing. Others submarined under the water surprising the unaware by grabbing their legs from below and taking them under for a playful dunking. I saw nothing I had not participated in 60 years ago. I could even remember the look of tea-colored water as I swam submerged looking for those legs to surprise — and the temperatures at various levels in the water, blissfully cooler as you went deeper.

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Generations

Into this reverie walked Alice and her Tracy Family Reunion t-shirt. Alice is the daughter of my cousin Jack Tracy. I don’t know if I’d ever met her. This was my first of the annual reunions in over 20 years, and back then Alice was living in Texas, having “followed a man,” she said. She also said she doesn’t recommend doing that. For lack of a better title, Alice is the reunion “organizer” now. Having returned to South Jersey from Texas, she manages a Facebook private group for the family and the annual reunion details. As much as anything it is a function of honoring her father and his high regard for family and his unparalleled lust for life. We lost Jack Tracy last year, a very sad thing for all of us.

Alice dragged me down the shoreline a hundred yards to a covered stand of picnic tables where the family was gathering. There were 25 or 30 folks there by now. Some I knew, some I did not. Such was not the case 60 years ago. Even as a 10-year-old I knew every one of the aunts, uncles and countless cousins, probably 50 or 60 people or more. And every one of them knew me. The family was close in those days. We spent a lot of time visiting with one another and celebrating holidays together. The extended family was the social fabric of our lives. In her later years, my mother said she found the Tracys to have been “clannish.” I could not disagree, but I also lay that at the feet of the Irish immigrant experience. The older family was still under the heavy influence of those who first came to this country. As unwelcome immigrants, the family, and the Catholic Church, were the only things you could depend upon. Times have changed, a lot.

The family, though much larger, is now widely dispersed. The folks in Alaska and upstate New York and Tennessee and Thailand are not making the trip for a Saturday by the little lake in South Jersey. Also, we are older, at least those I know and know about. At the reunion 60 years ago, you would hardly have seen a person over age 40. It was all young adults with growing families — and virtually everyone wore a bathing suit and got into the water at some point. (Except for Uncle Jim Tucker who bedeviled the children by telling them the water in that lake was too dry for him when they asked why he wasn’t swimming.) This year there were few people under age 40, and I don’t recall more than five or six children. I recall a couple of children taking boat rides, but it’s possible no one actually went for a swim. I saw a few folks playing a horeshoes-like game, but I don’t know if there was any other physical activity. Sixty years ago it was softball and badminton and volleyball and horseshoes, etc. This year’s reunion seemed like it could have been held in a church basement — and been a lot more comfortable given the heat.

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Connections

Sixty years ago a generation of younger folks took great pleasure in getting together at what was a premier resort of those times. A day at the lake was a big deal. Today, I think that lake, pleasant as it is, has outlived its appeal to most younger folks. We now have huge “water parks” and sprawling amusement parks, ala Six Flags, Hershey Park, etc. These would seem to be the places young families would go to share good times nowadays — if not a Disney resort or an ocean cruise. And for the most part, they would be having that time with those of their own generation. That younger generation exists in our family, of course. They are the ones not coming to the quaint little lake of past generations. And that’s why I don’t see them much — and why I have to ask, do I know you?

There was only one young couple, under age 30 and with a child under age two at our event this year. Seemed like they were only there for a couple of hours, perhaps from a sense of obligation. Or maybe the heat was too much for a child that age.  I had a defining moment with them though. Amanda and Sam live just south of Baltimore in the Brooklyn area of Anne Arundel County. I thought they would be amazed to know that 85 years ago the Tracy family, for a time, lived where they now live. The 1930 U.S. Census has my five-year-old father and his sisters, brothers and parents living around 4th Street and Hillcrest Avenue in Brooklyn. An astonishing connection to me, it seemed to mean little if anything to Amanda and Sam. And I realized they do not know those people I consider family, and they probably know nothing about them. Their child is six generations down the line from the family that lived in 1930 Brooklyn. I’m four generations down the line from the family that left Ireland and settled in New Haven, Connecticut. Except for genealogical research, I know little, if anything, about that ancestral family. And therein lies the tale.  One generation passes away and another takes its place.

Nowadays my cousin, Paul Reagle, and I might see one another at times around New Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Bellmawr, NJ. That’s our little family reunion now. With one exception, all the aunts and uncles who 60 years ago were lakeside with us are there. Our cousin, Jack, who championed the family reunion is there. They all wear granite name tags, and we don’t have to ask, “Who are you?” One generation passes away and another takes its place.

So, I took a trip in time this warm summer. Turns out I went to a family reunion at the old lake, but the family reunion did not come to me.

.

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Responses

  1. BILL
    I love to read your writing. …
    it’s so ture about the past 50 years that I can remember going to the reunion..havng a fund time in the lake with my brothers and sisters. …trying to dunk the strongest men in our family…. we really had to work hard on dunking dad…. he would not let you dunk him…I miss playing the baseball game where someone would start an argument just to get dad worked up…palying pinochle. We all new what buttons to push…. just to get him going..as time passes we lose our family members and it seem harder each year to bring our families out to enjoy each others company…the younger generation wants a pool instead of the lake…. so I am looking into areas the have a pool and playground that are close. …hopefully we can find something for our future generations to come out all enjoy……I would really like to start like a sunday dinner gathering, taking turns on each family. …just to see each family more and get to know our family better….so when reunion time comes each year, we would have more family members that would be willing to come out to spend time together. .
    I hope your writing will get family members thinking about the way it used to be .. open their minds to bring ideas to the table. Would love to see more family members at the reunion. .I only see alot of them growing up on Facebook. ….. lets get together more often. ….

  2. True,True, True….see you soon, I hope….Joe

  3. Thank you…I find myself in much the same position

  4. Planning a Drexler family reunion next year in, of all places a yes, northern Kentucky. The few who remain in south Jersey were the first to respond that they’re in. Thirty of us live in the Kentucky area. So, I wanted you to know that while our reunion will have new generations coming, I understand what you were saying about the old generation from our childhood being gone. Yes, on my mom’s side most have passed on, but my dad whose namesake will be gathering was an only child, so our reunion will really be a homage to him.

    By the way, which lake?

  5. Great article Bill! I remember the screen doors and I can easily imagine Uncle Jim claiming the water was too dry! It’s always a joy for me to hear your memories because they are so similar but different from my own.

    Your generation and mine were in the middle of the family population explosion. We had many aunts, uncles and cousins and most lived in the same area. We were all very lucky to have each other and I think most of us knew it. I know the extended family adds incomparable richness to my life. I wonder how well I would have known some of them if not for the reunions?

    The world has changed drastically and those changes are not conducive to bonding with extended family. Recent generations don’t seem to find much value in relatives beyond their immediate families. Phones and the internet are the social fabric of their lives. Not that I’m saying there is anything wrong with that, lol. Maybe they are better off. Presumably the internet will be around for the rest of their lives, whereas humans are sure to die on them!

    As you see I have no answers to the lack of attendance at the reunion. Great minds have struggled with this for decades now. It’s just a lot more complicated than it was 40 years ago!

    Keep trying though!

    Terri

  6. Thanks, Terri. Very well said!

  7. We were at Garrison this year, Judi. In other years we used Centerton or others, but Garrison is as good as any, better than most.

  8. Jim just showed me your article today. I felt like I was there with you that day! It was so descriptive! You are a talented writer and stoyteller.

  9. Thanks, Renee.

  10. We were a very small, non-extended family. However, we had a tradition. My dad was a bookkeeper and had his own business. Every year, after the tax deadline (April 15th), and once in August for good measure, we went to Port Aransas, TX (on Mustang Island). We always stayed in little cottages with kitchenettes. People didn’t go out to eat that much back then; Mom cooked, of course! I grew up on those beaches. Of all my childhood memories, those of playing on the beach and generally hanging out at the coast were the most vivid and the most cherished. So it just goes to show you that even in a small family, if you make the effort, treasured traditions can be honored and enjoyed and remembered. Thanks for sharing your memories; you really helped me bring back some good ones!

  11. Sounds like lovely memories, and nicely described. Thanks.


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