Family reunion season upon us

Kathy and I participated in a family reunion in Lamoni, Iowa, this past weekend. It was a hoot. Those of you who attend your own know what I mean.

Lamoni is ground zero for my mother’s side of the family. 

Mom’s mother, Grandma Garver, was one of four sisters of Norwegian descent who were born and raised in that town, three miles north of the Iowa-Missouri border straight south of Des Moines. After they married, they and their families all lived for many years within 1½ blocks of each other on North Silver Street. Mom was one of 13 cousins who grew up together.

The four Hayer sisters were the daughters of Lorenzo Hayer and Bertha Danielson Hayer, whose forebears — the Hayers, Danielsons, Elefsons and Thomasons, small farmers all — had migrated in packs from southwestern Norway (Stavanger) and southeastern Norway (Telemark) from 1837 to 1842, ending up near Fox River and Ottawa in La Salle County, Ill. 

From there, most of the tribe moved in the late 19th century to Lamoni, which had become the central community of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS, now the Community of Christ), to which nearly all the gang belonged.

Because it was a Hayer get-together, last weekend’s gathering was dubbed The Hayeritage Reunion. 

At the Lamoni Community Center, which we commandeered for the weekend, brother Tom Morain of Lamoni presented his research on the Norway years of the clan, including the reasons for their emigration. 

Cousin Jennifer, of Chapel Hill, N.C., took the years from Norway to Lamoni, and cousin Kay, of Boston, finished up with the Lamoni years and afterward. Each did a masterful job of sleuthing and then presenting the precious data to all of us, punctuated with appropriate story nuggets that had the room rocking with giggles and guffaws.

Jennifer had created an awe-inspiring 48-foot wall chart that included absolutely everyone in the tribe in a seven-generation family tree format, beginning with Lorenzo and Bertha and descending to the most recent infants, with dates of births and deaths. It was absolutely a tour de force, and it involved countless hours of research and followups.

The local tribal members of the town took charge of making sleeping, dining and entertainment arrangements. Those present paid $35 each to cover expenses.

One of the family in-laws, Gracia Smith, who continues to live in Lamoni, celebrated her 100th birthday over the weekend, and she was appropriately honored by those of her particular clan. She is doing very well, thank you. She is the sister of the late Raymond Smith, who also reached 100 years before his passing a few years ago. Raymond was the husband of the late Verna Hayer Smith, daughter of the late Minnie Hayer Garver, my grandmother. You get the picture.

(Raymond long ago coined the term “Hayeritage.”)

With as many Norwegians migrating to the United States at the same time in large groups, mutual attractions were bound to spring up. One result was the appearance of several sets of double cousins, after two brothers and a sister of one family married two sisters and a brother of another family. The offspring were bound by a special kind of kinship.

(We hasten to point out that it wasn’t incest, but it takes some explaining.)

None of the four Hayer sisters, including my grandmother, married Norwegians, but all four of their husbands were ordained by the RLDS Church, so that relationship replaced ethnicity and became the glue that kept the tribe close thereafter. 

And because some of the husbands were often gone for long periods of time on mission trips around the world, or passed away too early, the tribe functioned like a matriarchy, with the wives and mothers calling the shots for the youngsters in the “compound” on North Silver Street.

We descendants have been blessed by our ability and desire to remain close, if not actually in geographical terms. The unofficial designation, in a tradition that goes back about 70 years or so, is that young singles of the clan are Cloverleaves. Their parents are Ragweeds, and their grandparents (of which I am one) are Horse Thistles. Great-grandparents are Creeping Jennies.

It was a joy to watch youngsters of grade school age, like one of our granddaughters and a young cousin of hers from Boston, meet each other for the first time and strike up immediate friendships, just as those of us of previous generations had done many years ago.

Those affinities continue. 

As I write this column, Kathy and I are on a weeklong post-reunion trip to the Duluth and North Shore region of Minnesota with cousin Kay and her husband Boris. 

We’ve shared several trips with them over the years, and reciting the old family stories with them is always a treat, as it is anytime Hayer descendants meet. 

May the line — and the lines — never end.

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