Drennan Cousins Reunion Back To My Roots

A Different Perspective

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were invited to attend a cousins family reunion in New Sharon, Iowa.  The trip was an opportunity to revisit a community where my parents grew up and where I have many childhood memories.  It also allowed me the opportunity to show my wife a place that has a family connection for me. 

While it’s only a 4 hour trip from where we live in Lincoln, it felt like a 60 year trip back through time. This trip brought back many memories of being with extended family members–including the same cousins we were reconnecting with from those early years! This would be a trip providing a different type of perspective.        

Family Reunions

As a familiar story to many of you, our family was very large.  From both parents sides including aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, on up the family tree, we had regular family reunions.  Reunions were generally planned around any special occasion such as holidays, weddings, birthdays, new babies, and funerals.Those occasions provided a continuous thread that kept the family connected.    

I imagine for most people, revisiting places where your immediate family’s roots began isn’t all that unusual. In my case, while growing up, my parents moved around quite often. Couple that with the passing away of my parents, we gradually made fewer and fewer pilgrimages back to this small town.

Here are a few photos of the ‘good ole days’…       

The New Perspective

This trip to central Iowa reminded me of the many similar trips as a child to visit grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.  Those trips were mostly remembered for the time spent sitting in the back seat of our family Buick land-yacht along with my bossy big brother as we made the trip to our grandparents house.  Indelibly imprinted in my brain are those memories of spending many hours riding through the Iowa countryside trying to stay on my side of the back seat. 

(I should note, here, that my earliest recollections of our family reunion trips have limited memories which include my three older sisters.  By then, they were leading their own adult lives either married or off attending college.)

It is odd which experiences stick with us later in life.  Of the many memories that I have, though, on each visit there was always a common recognition that my brother and I were still growing up and getting bigger and older. On this trip, after all these years, I’m sure our most noteworthy accomplishment to my cousins were centered around JUST BEING OLD!!  

The revolving door we call life keeps going around and it becomes more important as we get older to remember those early people and times that shaped our past which creates a perspective on how we got to where we are today.

Roots Defined

It’s hard to say, but the experiences of visiting my Grandfather Drennan in those years ,most likely impacted decisions I made later in life about family and career.  

For example, there’s something memorable about sleeping in an old Victorian house during a cold Christmas winter’s night. With only a pile of handmade quilts to retain my brother’s and my own body heat, I grew up with a different appreciation for central heating and insulation in the walls surrounding you!  

Maybe more impactful, though, was that the house was furnished with everyday items that would later in life have significant importance.  Items associated with names like Stickley, Wedgewood, Maxfield Parrish, and William Morris became a part of my appreciation for architecture, art and design. I’m sure these experiences affected my decision to become an architect.     

The Reunion

The forecast for the day was heavy rain and rain it did.  It rains a lot in Iowa. Consequently its a good place to grow corn. I’m not sure if the two–rain and corn–are causally correlated but they go together nonetheless.

The family farm was the site for the reunion. My mother’s side of the family has owned and operated the farm over the last 150 years.  Over those years, it has been operated by succeeding family members and is now in the hands of my first cousin Bill and his wife, Nadine.  They have taken care of the farm and have single handedly preserved the family’s historical connection to the area.  Driving in for the first time in many years, it was not as I remembered it.  It actually, looked A LOT better!  The farm is now an Iowa Heritage site and Bill and Nadine have spiffed the place up beautifully.

Cornfields surrounded the farm, just as I remembered it.  However, now there is a sprinkling of wind turbines added to the landscape.  Wind turbines are becoming a part of central Iowa’s new identify much like oil wells are a part of Texas, Oklahoma and many other oil producing states.  Besides corn, parts of Iowa can produce a lot of wind, too! (That’s not necessarily a political, view…)

A Few Images of the Day

The revolving door we call life keeps going around and around. It therefore becomes more important as we get older to remember the people and times that shaped our past.  Those memories will then create a perspective on how we got to where we are today. 

It is equally important to remember the new family members who will miss the opportunity to be anchored with their past unless we bring along the stories which will tell them who we were.  

More Art!

One pleasant surprise was to visit the small art gallery located on the farm. ( I think it might have been a converted chicken coop.) The structure now houses a large collection of my Aunt Rena’s paintings.  I remember many of the oil paintings that my aunt had hanging on her walls.  We had several hanging in our house as well.  My aunt painted bible stories that she used in Sunday school class.  She painted rivers, fields, roads, farms, and people.  She also taught painting to friends and neighbors which  created an active appreciation for art within the community. My aunt Rena painted local life as she saw it. My own appreciation for art and painting just might have originated from seeing the joy she obtained from art.

Final Thought

The perspective from the day is one with sentimentality.  I came away from the  day with a renewed connection to some of my family.  It felt good to be reminded of my family’s historical roots.     

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