Manny and Nora
Dear Manny & Nora:
I never had the opportunity to meet you in person, because you had already gone home before I came into your family. My family and I just spent the weekend wrapped in love in North Dakota surrounded by ninety of your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and even one great-great granddaughter. That was only the number of those who could attend this year, and a few of your cousins and second cousins came along too! I had such an amazing experience (as did my whole family) that I wanted to write to you about the family reunion. To the Dakota prairie we all travel as if spellbound for the lure of the sacred water gently calling our names like the siren song, only in our journey we wash up in the arms of a loved one saying, “I’m so glad to see you.”
Eighty-two years ago, the two of you were young and starting out a new life together, not knowing what legacy you would leave in this world. The first description of that legacy would be a whole lot of family. Whether by blood or marriage, we number well past one hundred and twenty-five. After shaking the sheer overwhelming nature of headcounts, the only thing you feel is love – that holds us all together with heaven’s gossamer when we are away from this place.
You raised a great group of kids, and your grandkids are amazingly talented people in all facets of life – hard workers and excellent parents. (Of course, I am pretty partial to one of your grandsons.) Your sons married wonderful wives, and your daughters are the thread that holds this family together. Like the reunion t-shirts proclaimed, family is cherished here. Based on my personal observations as granddaughter-in-law, you raised people to love God, love each other, have fun, be lighthearted, eat and cook well, laugh heartily, enjoy life’s little moments, and make music with your voice and your heart.
I would have to write a book on the beauty of it all, but in a nutshell this is what I experienced over the weekend.
- Piles and piles of rich foods (lovingly prepared, savored, and devoured) – including recipes passed down directly from you.
- More hugs than I think have ever been recorded. Some in greetings, some in farewells, but most, just because we were so glad to be together.
- Tears of joy and tears of sadness for all of life’s miracles and heartaches.
- Laughter that had to bring joy to the heavens.
- Prairie winds, sun, and storms – which brought us together in more ways than one.
- Swapping of old stories and family lines (who is related to whom and how)
- Teenagers coming out their shells and emerging as beautiful people – ready to carry the torch of family for future generations
- Godchildren and godparents
- Healthy competitions and gentle ribbing
- Quality time spent fishing, visiting, eating, playing cards, or gathering around the campfire
- Babies and septuagenarians
- Relationships strengthened and built
- Handmade love lavished on the little ones.
- Gifts that made thousand mile journeys.
- Superheroes – those who made cabbage rolls, Ironman protecting us at supper, and who could ever forget Spiderma’am
- Legends – best cinnamon rolls in the world, first fish caught, and jokes that never get old
- Singing around a campfire (or in a makeshift group out of the storm), but singing just to be together.
- Songs in memory, in tradition, and in tribute.
- So many pictures that we should all have eye troubles for a while
- Reunion traditions – old and new – fashion shows that rival Paris runways
- Sadness for those unable to travel and for those who have gone to join you, followed by happiness because we are cloaked in so many happy memories.
We have weathered life’s journey well. We have sojourned through the celebrations of births, baptisms, graduations, and weddings, mourning tragedies, deaths, and defeats. Together we have hated cancer, loved each other, and rejoiced in gathering. As we prepared to leave that sacred and blessed time, it took at least an hour to say good-bye. There were that many necks to hug, and I can only imagine that it will take us that long to enter heaven because of the hugs awaiting our arrival.
In case they don’t know already, we will just have to show all of heaven how we do things – Nowatzki-style!
Photos by Amy Schuler, Jason Schuler, Sawyer Stevens, and Emily Currier Nowatzki