another ten years before she joined them. But as for me - at age 59, only I remain, of a family who all died at fairly young ages. My mother at 65, my father at 68; my next younger brother Chris at 50, and just three days ago, my youngest brother Craig at age 54. It's a slight comfort to tell myself that I am in better health (if not better shape) than any of them, and to think that at the very least, I can attempt to outlive my mother.
But with everyone in my family gone, who is left to tell the stories? Who is left to share the memories? Memories of growing up in the 1960''s, in the big yellow house on Crenshaw Lane in Forest Park, Ohio. Memories of going sledding down the hill, in our aluminum saucer sleds - the neighborhood kids all looked cross-eyed at us for being "different", but we felt superior in our ability to spin around and around on the ice and snow. The memories of playing caroms in the living room, with its frost-covered picture window, or taking Easter Sunday pictures outside on the back patio next to mom's iris.
There are so many memories of Michigan - the state where my parents grew up, and where we went every chance we got. Grandma and Grandpa Stoelt's big 3-story brick house in Detroit, covered with ivy and holding treasures such as the pull-down stairs to the attic, the screened-in back porch, and (most delightful of all) the laundry chute. Memories of creeping down the stairs on a bright summer morning - no matter how early it was, Grandma would be in her needlepoint rocking chair in the living room, reading her Bible lessons for the day. Memories of the drive north to Beulah, coming down the hill on US 31 from Benzonia, seeing Crystal Lake in its icy blue loveliness. Driving further north and crossing the Mackinac Bridge, on our way to the Hiawatha Sportsman's Club, where we rented a cabin on Millecoquins Lake every summer. I am now the only one who can tell the story of the Curse of Hiawatha, and the mishaps that occurred every single summer, some of them conspiring to keep us there until Dad got a new pair of glasses shipped from Cincinnati (he lost his diving into a wave in Lake Michigan), or our car waited for a new transmission (it went out on us while on a drive deep into the forest, where Dad had to walk two miles to the nearest sign of civilization).
There are memories of Florida, and our move there in 1967 when Dad got a job at Cape Canaveral, working in the space program. Our first walk on the beach, where we made our first (ouch!) acquaintance with sand burrs. Our first experience of a rocket launch, where we watched the launch on TV and then ran out in the back yard to see the white smoke trail towering upward. Memories of the motorboat that Dad bought (and by a unanimous decision, named "Hiawatha"), and that we took out on the canals and waterways, exploring Florida. Memories of driving across the state to Bradenton to visit Grandpa Reed, and of having not one, but two Airstream trailers parked beside our house, when Grandma and Grandpa Stoelt, and Auntie Jean and Uncle David came for Thanksgiving.
Those are my memories. There are also the memories of our parents and grandparents, kept alive through the stories they told to us. My mother's stories of going to the Hiawatha Club with her parents in the 1940's, and having to use outhouses in back of the cabins. My father's memories of his home in Lansing, as the only boy between two sisters. His stories of going to Beulah every summer, camping in tents on the shore of Crystal Lake, on the land Grandpa Reed would buy in 1940 "for a dollar and other considerations". His memories of engineering school at Michigan State University, and of hitchhiking to Beulah on long weekends and breaks.
There are the stories Grandma Stoelt told, of growing up with a brother and three stepbrothers, and how she became a tomboy "out on the farm in Oxford" in the 1920's. She told stories of meeting and marrying my grandfather, who had a motherless one-year-old (my mother) to care for. She told of teaching English to evening classes full of immigrants at the high school, and how she loved those classes most of all, "because they were there to learn!"
I'm the only one left, now, to tell the stories. It's up to me to keep those memories alive, not just to pass along the family stories, but to give my children a sense of what it was like to live "way back when". What it was like to have the doctor make house calls, as he did when I was sick with the measles in 1962. What it was like to have only one car, so that Mom had to call the cab to go to the grocery store. What it was like to have one phone in the house (a black rotary-dial), and to be on a party line, so that we had to take turns with our neighbors down the street, to use it. What it was like for my Grandpa Reed to buy his first car, in order to make his job as a truant officer easier. What it was like to have a "Quarantine" sign slapped on the front door, or (as my Aunt Lois was) be hospitalized with pneumonia and be saved in the very nick of time by the brand-new medication, penicillin.
So from now on, at every family get-together, at holidays, celebrations, weddings and funerals, I will be talking about those stories. I am the Keeper of the Memories, and I will do my best to hand them down to future generations.