Is there anything quite like family? Not to us, the descendants of Walt and Florence Ward of Norcatur, Kansas, whose parents were homesteaders in Northwestern Kansas in the late 1860s. Large family gatherings have been a tradition since that time.
That is why it was such a joy in July to be together again. We held our gathering (arranged by my sister the travel agent aka No. 1 Organizer) at Murphy’s Resort in Estes Park. The resort facilities have undergone major work since the Big Thompson River that goes threw Estes went on a horrific rampage about a year ago.
The highways to Estes have recently reopened with extensive work along the river, quietly rippling along now, but a raging torrent last year that ripped away bridges and roads and houses.
In Denver, it was blistering hot (100), as we headed for cooler temperatures at Estes. At the park the days were bright and cooler by 20 degrees or so, especially at night.
Many family members arrived when my sister, son and I did on Thursday, settling into their rooms, ready to begin gathering and catching up – siblings, sons and daughters, sons and daughters-in-law, first and second cousins. There are no aunts and uncles now: somewhat frightening but true: My siblings, I and three first cousins are now the eldest. Our last surviving Ward aunt died earlier this year.
More family came on Friday and even more on Saturday morning. My daughter, son-in-law and I had traveled from Mississippi and Alabama, and my son and a second cousin from Texas. One nephew came with his family from New York and another from California,. One of the first cousins came with her husband and a few of his family from Oklahoma and Wyoming.
In the evenings we gathered under the sheltering roof outside our room. In the day many of the adults took the kids on excursions or they kept busy at the recreation facilities, swimming, playing corn hole, shuffleboard, ping pong and more. The kids also dreamed up their own activities as kids will do.
These kids, the newest Ward generations, were definitely dreamers and innovators, creating special activities, led by the ones who possessed organizational skills evidently inherited from their great aunt.
Rarely have I seen such a group of kids, mostly ages 6 to13, so busy and engaging, so smart and yes, good-looking. Okay, they ARE my family. The very youngest of this generation couldn’t make it: twin boys, my great-great nephews, were still in the newborn unit of a Denver hospital, while the soon-to-be youngest was still in his mother’s womb, ready to pop out! The youngest on site was 5-month old Sawyer from El Paso.
We watched and laughed as a great-niece set up her own version of the Ward Olympics set to take place on Saturday, the last day, the day of the big picnic and cookout. She designated categories and made certificates for the winners. In the meantime, her cohorts blew up balloons and filled up the Jacuzzi in our room since no one was using it. They lined up to have their photos taken, lounging in the balloon-filled tub!
Again, as night came, everyone gathered at our room where all the snacks were and lots of potables, too. We sat outside, talking and remembering past gatherings, some in the mountains or at Norcatur for Memorial Day.
Even though we don’t see many of these relatives very often, we all feel close once we come together. We regretted that my youngest sister and her husband didn’t get there from New York with two of their youngest grandchildren. Our oldest niece didn’t make it at the last minute as well. Her younger sister and one daughter were there, though.
All who could make it had gathered by Saturday, and preparations for the picnic moved forward around the barbecue grills available in one of the picnic areas. As it turned out, it was lucky our No. 1 Organizer had arranged to reserve an inside space for the afternoon, because the summer monsoons hit.
Yes, Colorado has monsoons and yes, they are the ones that had swept in off the Pacific Ocean earlier in July. The rain and wind came in very much like the torrential “gully washers” we have along the Gulf Coast – blinding, driving rain that swept mud down the slopes and soaked everything. We’d rushed inside and set out all the food, etc. again. Luckily the cooks had finished the ‘burgers and dogs.
The picnic went on, the rain stopped and time came to gather for one last time under the porches, exchanging last minute news and information to those we wouldn’t see face to face again for some time. My daughter and I had to say our goodbyes then as we were headed to the Denver airport very early the next morning for our morning flight to New Orleans. Her husband had flown the day before to Alaska to hunt.
Saying goodbye to my siblings gets more difficult these days – our eldest sister has been gone for several years. We have the memories and photos from our last time together, however, just as we do from the last time with our mother, the eldest daughter of Florence and Walt. In the intervening years ahead, the youngest ones, the babies and toddlers, will continue changing and growing quickly as they do. Some of those near 1-year-old are already walking!
These days, however, unlike the days long ago at those Norcatur reunions, we have smart phones, iPads and computers, which have face-to-face phone options and photo capability. And, now of course, there’s Facebook to exchange instant information and photos of growing babies like the new twins and little Zachery in South Caroline and the newest – baby Zac in Colorado.
So until we meet again on the High Plains or in the mountains – or on Facebook – au revoir.