Relatives make their own music at gatherings

Ryan M. Taylor


For the Capital Press

They say you can pick your friends but you can't pick your family. That may be the case, but I sure feel like I had good luck of the draw in the family I was dealt.

We're all a little different in our family despite our common genes. And that's good because everyone has something different to offer. It's kind of like an orchestra coming together. The music's not quite as good if everyone is playing a clarinet. Homogenization might be a good thing for milk, but it's not nearly as good for groups of people.

My relatives have lots of different careers, likes and dislikes, variations of politics, places we call home and spouses and children that help mix things up a little. What I always liked most about the extended family I grew up in is how we'd entertain each other when we got together.

Due to size and proximity, most of my family memories were made with my mother's side of the family. Dad's side of the family was a good and interesting bunch, too, but it was a small group and fairly far flung. Mom, however, came from a family of seven children, and most settled relatively near the home where they grew up along the Mouse River in McHenry County, N.D.

Her father emigrated from Hallingdal, Norway, some 22 years before she was born, and she spoke Norwegian before she learned English. Her mother was born in America, but was the daughter of Gudbrandsdalen Norwegians who came to North Dakota just before statehood.

Those seven children, raised through the Great Depression with little or nothing but love and each other, were pretty close-knit. Two of the boys went off to World War II, and one died much too young in a car accident after the war. The six remaining all married and raised families, one in Alaska and the other five in north central North Dakota.

When we had family get-togethers on holidays or for no particular reason at all, these were the aunts and uncles and cousins and cousins' kids involved.

There weren't many awkward pauses in the conversation. We had ranchers, farmers, a commercial fisherman, heavy equipment operators, construction workers, trappers, hunters, caregivers, a dentist, artists and musicians represented around the table to share stories and tales and jokes. As kids, we'd sit at the table and listen. There was no hiding in another room to "text" our friends.

Along with the stories, I most remember the music.

At some point of the family's afternoon or evening visit, the musical instruments would start coming out. Mom was the family fiddler, but she could chord on the piano or pick up most any stringed instrument. My aunt played the accordion, the cousins could play the guitar and my uncle always had his harmonica. Most everyone knew the words to the songs they'd play and we weren't ashamed to join in on the chorus.

We didn't have iPods or digital downloads, but we had good music. We didn't spend the money to see many movies in town, but we heard lots of good stories around the table that could have been the subject of a movie.

No, I didn't get to pick my relatives, but I doubt I could have picked better.

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