While summer held on with a vengeance here in Owen County last weekend, I headed up to Charlevoix, Michigan to find high temps only in the fifties and a cloudy, drizzly weekend. The dreary weather was an appropriate backdrop for a funeral which sadly is what prompted me to travel to Michigan with my three brothers and one of my sisters.
We lost our beloved cousin Charley suddenly and unexpectedly. Charley was 22 months younger than me and an important part of my life for as long as I can remember up until the day he died. He was a musician and artist and an all-around nice man. I could write a long tribute to my cherished pal, and maybe I will someday, but our family gathering got me to thinking about the beauty of family love.
All these cousins and siblings gathering to support Charley’s daughter and granddaughter are the progeny of two sweet sisters. Bettie and Evelyn Pennington grew up in Ft.Wayne, Indiana. Their mother kept the house and their father taught math at Ft.Wayne North Side High School. They were pretty, had sweet singing voices, and learned from their parents to be caring and loving. Both Bettie and her younger sister Evelyn attended Earlham College where they met their sweethearts, John and Earl, whom they would eventually marry after the interruption of World War II.
Those sweet sisters raised their families a few hours’ drive apart but stayed close through letters, phone calls, and multiple annual visits. They comforted and supported each other through Bettie’s eight babies and Evelyn’s seven. The two sisters needed each other through the loss of babies, one each, and the loss of Evelyn’s husband, our Uncle Earl, in a work accident in 1966.
The losses were very difficult but what we learned, what was demonstrated for us time and time again, was that familial love and support could get us through some pretty horrible situations.
Despite the sadness, our gathering to mourn the loss of one of our sister clan members reminded me of the blissful days when our two families gathered at either of the two old farm houses in which we lived. I remember Mom and Aunt Evelyn sitting in the high-ceilinged kitchen of Evelyn’s house talking and laughing between the preparations of wonderful meals for the hoard of hungry cousins.
The two sisters spent most of their visits with each other. If we dared to enter their sanctuary and interrupt their precious visits, we’d be sent off to play with helpful suggestions of some fun activity far from their kitchen meeting place.
This past weekend as we met in my cousin’s warm and welcoming house in Charlevoix, we reminisced about forming the Explorer’s Club, the two sisters’ plan to get us out into the woods. They fixed us a quick lunch and packed us off to the back forty. As the children of Bettie and Evelyn, we grew to love one another like siblings and we’ve tried to continue that closeness through the years.
We shed more than a few tears as the older cousins helped the younger set remember the lullabies that Mom and Aunt Evelyn would sing to us at our bedsides. Most summers involved trading kids for a week or two at a time. When I as a young visitor in Ft.Wayne would get sad and homesick, my Aunt Evelyn would sweetly sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow to calm and comfort me. What a joy to think back on and quietly sing All Through the Night or Scarlet Ribbons, two of their other favorites.
It struck me, as I visited with my grown cousins and we sat together crying and laughing about our family’s recent loss and our parents all gone now, that we were all so very fortunate. We had all benefited from the lessons of love from these two sisters. And our children were now clustered around us watching us demonstrate the power of love we inherited from the two sisters. We are now entrusted with this legacy of comfort and support.
As I think of those two loving sisters now, so many miles and years away, I still think of the lullaby they sang to the children of our two connected families. “I my loved ones’ watch am keeping, all through the night.” And that’s what we do. We were taught well to protect our loved ones with all the love that those two sisters could provide. We carry it on.
In Owen County and everywhere, strong loving families provide a foundation for, not only making it through life, but for thriving and carrying on the traditions of supportive, loving families. And we know strong families make strong communities.
That’s why we work with our donors to fund local programs that support families whether in their education, their health, or their ability to enjoy a beautiful and welcoming community.
Your Owen County Community Foundation is committed to helping our communities become better places to live, grow, and work. We value community involvement and charitable spirit. And loving families.
If you would like to know more about how you can work with your OCCF to create a permanent charitable memorial to your family or fund programs for families, contact us. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit us online at our Facebook page or our website www.owencountycf.org, or stop by and visit our new office at 60 E. Market Street in Spencer. We’re on the south side of the Courthouse Square.