A story about family reunions and living a full life
Does your family have reunions? Ours doesn’t. The Pecks never seemed to get together, and even the Kleckers haven’t had a reunion since my dear Uncle Louie died a decade ago.
I’m one of 20 living first cousins on the Peck side of my family, rooted in Dane County. And because we haven’t had a reunion that I know of since my grandmother left the Peck farm for a nursing home more than 30 years ago, that makes what transpired Sunday so remarkable. We’re scattered as far away as Montana and Arizona, but an even dozen of us assembled at the United Methodist Church in Marshall. No, we weren’t gathered for a funeral, and it wasn’t a St. Patrick’s Day celebration as such, either. Instead, we came to honor a truly remarkable lady, my Aunt Jerry—yes, she spells her name that way.
Aunt Jerry was born March 15, 1923, the youngest of four daughters to a farm family where her dad and his brother and their wives and kids all lived together in Milford, just outside Lake Mills. She met my Uncle Mike—the second oldest of Dad’s brothers—when she was visiting a relative and Mike was on a threshing crew near Marshall. They wed, had two daughters and a son, and owned a gun shop, plumbing and heating business and also an excavating business in Marshall.
Mike died nine years ago, and if a dozen of the cousins gathered for his funeral, I wouldn’t know; I was at a lengthy newspaper conference in Washington, D.C., and, unfortunately, missed his funeral.
Now, only the two youngest brothers of a brood of six Peck kids remain—my dad and David, who turns 90 later this year.
But this story is really about my Aunt Jerry. I wrote a little note to her that I tucked in with my card, telling her what an inspiration she is to all of us on how to live life with spirit and zest. I reminded her how she baby-sat me while she worked at the gun shop and I bounced around the wooden floors. I wrote that I regretted not being able to remain in Marshall and spend even more time with her in adulthood.
Sunday’s birthday party was scheduled for 3½ hours. My wife, Cheryl, and I wound up spending four hours there—arriving a bit early and staying late. I relished spending time visiting relatives and Jerry’s well-wishers among the huge crowd that I hadn’t seen or talked to in decades. I didn’t even know how many children each of my cousins had, much less these now-adult kids' names.
I also enjoyed viewing photos of Aunt Jerry and reading the chronology of her life story on Sunday. For many years she put 1,100 miles on her bicycle every summer—and I remember her stopping by to visit Mom while on her rides around the village of Marshall. Aunt Jerry loves to cook and bake and play cards and dance—even to this day. When playing Bingo, she plays 12 cards at once.
She makes regular trips to an athletic club in Sun Prairie, and last year the club’s newsletter even pictured Aunt Jerry on the cover, wearing her swimsuit in the pool. Yep, that newsletter was on display Sunday, too.
A few weeks ago, Cheryl and I were in Marshall and thought we might stop in and see if Aunt Jerry wanted to join us for lunch. A guy who once worked for Mike and Jerry was shoveling snow out of her driveway—she was gone to Florida with her daughters, an annual girls’ getaway. That’s Aunt Jerry.
One more note on the photo captions displayed Sunday caught my eye. It suggested that the keys to living a long and happy life are to “stay active, be involved and share with others.” Those, too, are Aunt Jerry, a remarkable lady whom I suspect—and hope—has many happy days and years ahead.
Aunt Jerry with daughters Gini and Pat, left, and son Mike, or “Butch.”