Thursday morning we were off bright and early, picking up Mark and Sara on the way to Des Moines for a family funeral. The Nielsen cousins are all very close having grown up together around here, Bruce said when he was a kid, nearly every summer Sunday brought a crowd to Leo's Pond after church. They picnicked and swam, playing King of the Mountain on a pile of inner tubes. Lots of weekend nights were spent sleeping overnight in the cabin, cooking breakfast on the outdoor grill in the morning.
That closeness didn't fade even though some families moved away, it just made the times they do get together all the more precious, whether it is for a happy occasion such as Dick and Marilyn's 50th anniversary two years ago, or Marilyn's funeral on Thursday. I was welcomed into this family with open arms and everyone who was able, attended our wedding, Dick and Marilyn among them. They came to all of the family get togethesr and Dick always told good stories.
Two years ago Marilyn was diagnosed with a terrible brain disease that finally claimed her life.
I used to avoid funerals at all costs but have come to realize that it an important time to share memories with others and celebrate their life. It was so heartwarming to hear the stories from Marilyn's three daughters and one grandson, makes me wish I had known her better. They all talked about how involved she was with their and their children's lives. Having only known one grandparent, seeing her infrequently, my memories consist of drinking tea heavily laced with milk, spam and crackers and playing with her sparse collection of toys, it was very different from their stories.
Their grandmother taught them in pre-school, took them for ice cream, went to football games even though she didn't like the cold, sitting out half the game in the car and praising them for the good game, took them to plays and out to eat at fancy restaurants, always had a special treat when they came to visit, was a great cook and planned a girl's weekend for daughters and granddaughters that was always a highlight for all.
I watched my own parent's involvement with their grandchildren later in life and hope my niece and nephews have fond memories of going camping, fishing and of Mom attending ball games and wrestling matches even though she really didn't like them much.
After the funeral we were treated to a tasty lunch, complete with glass plates and cloth napkins before caravaning to the cemetery. These church ladies really know how to feed a crowd in style.
Bruce approved of the lunch.
That was when the cousins met up, pulling two round tables together and commandeering chairs so we could all eat together, making ourselves at home.
We hadn't seen Pat, who now lives in Duluth, for a few years but it was as though it was yesterday.
L - R, Kim, Pat's daughter from CA, Debbie, Dennis (one of Bruce's favorite fishing partners), Bruce, Sara, Mark, Les and Linda. The stories flow, even if they have been told before, again and again, everyone laughs as though they are hearing it for the first time.
Mark is holding court and has everyone's attention.
L-R, Pat, Larry, Larry's son, Larry's wife, someone I don't know, and Michael, Marilyn's son in law who is a minister and presided over the funeral. Mike pointed out, proudly, that he had over 20 years of pampering by Marilyn, on the other two son in laws.
A group photo of the guys as we were getting ready to leave for the cemetery, Mark, Dennis, Dick and Bruce.
The police escorted funeral procession to the cemetery through downtown Des Moines and then on I-80 was an experience that only be labeled chaotic. With two escorts trying to leap frog each other to traffic lights and keep the procession moving was akin to herding cats. One of the police tried in vain to stop a little old lady at a traffic light but she only saw the green light, looked straight ahead and paid no attention to him.
"Get out of my way, Sonny!"
It was even more hair raising on I-80, 70 MPH, vehicles zipping on and off ramps, the escorts trying to keep us all in a line, we were desperate to keep the hazard lights in our sight since we didn't know where we were headed. We finally were safely out of the rat race and driving off the interstate toward Waukee. We passed a gas station that advertised E-85 for $1.35! Wow, we have never bought it that cheap but we didn't dare leave the line of cars since we still didn't know where we headed.
After a brief, chilly service at the cemetery, we bid everyone goodbye, a last round of hugs and headed for home. Now the family has to learn to live without Marilyn in their lives but all the memories will carry them through. Bruce said that we should hit Sac City, home of the Cattleman's Restaurant about 5, just in time for them to be open for supper and we were all very receptive to that.
But first we had to get there, we never found another station with E-85, our fuel of choice, Bruce hit the fuel range button on the menu and it assured us the car could go another 69 miles.
It lied. We planned on fueling at the Hwy 4 station on Hwy 20 and we had reached the point of no return with no stations in sight. About 10 miles from our destination the warning light started pinging away and it refused to tell us how far we could drive.
In other words, we were on our own!
We all heaved a sigh of relief when we saw the station and held our breath until we were beside the pump, it held 16.9 gallons, it has a 17 gallon tank. Just a little too close for comfort. But the good news was, the price was $1.35!
We pulled in front of the Cattleman's at 4:55, the inside door was open so we took that as a good sign. Three burgers, one pork tenderloin, two orders of fries, one order of cheese balls, two Blue Moons complete with oranges in the mug, one hot tea and one diet coke for our designated driver later, we loaded up for the final leg of the trip.
As we drove past the coop elevator, we were in for a surprise, a huge herd of deer cleaning up corn that was left behind when they cleaned out the bunker! There had to be at least a hundred deer, some calming eating, some frisking around so I lobbied for a photo. It was hard because it was getting dark so this was the best I could get.
We made it home safely, dropping Mark and Sara off about 12 hours after we picked them up. It was a long, cold day with a lot of miles under our butts but our hearts were warm with more memories.
And I'm thinking we need to take a road trip back to Sac City with all my camera equipment, anyone want to ride along?