It began with a leisurely glance though my Mom’s photo albums. My husband & I were spending a few days with my parents in Washington at the tail end of summer. I can’t remember exactly why I was looking at 50 year old pictures of my childhood, I had seen them thousands of times & pretty much knew them by heart. There I was, five years old with long brown ringlets & a red headband, standing in a row with four other cousins all dressed alike. Four girls & a boy. The three girls & I are in crisp blue plaid dresses with a thin red rick-rack trim. The lone boy has a shirt to match (I can’t tell if his has rick-rack, hope not!).
We were the only members of a privileged group in our family. All five cousins, being born in 1955, we were dubbed “The 55’ers”. Our five families had organized an end of summer gathering to celebrate the fact that the five of us were all getting ready to enter Kindergarten! The moms had sewn our matching outfits & took many photos of us that weekend at our first family camp-out. We even had a special cake & gifts, which probably made up for the super scratchy petticoats we had to wear with those dresses to make them “stand-out”!
I wonder who first thought of & suggested the idea of making the gathering an annual event? It was not a terribly complicated plan. One of our Uncles owned some property behind his house that had a creek running all the way around it in the winter months, so we called it “The Island”. By the end of summer, one side of the creek was dry enough to drive through & that is exactly what our cars did the last weekend of every summer for many years.
I can still remember the crunch of our car tires, every summer, rolling over the dry rocky creek bed as we finally made it to our island campout! The loaded car would rise up out of the deep creek bed & onto the clearing that held large & small canvas tents circling a cement fire pit. There were already several folding camp chairs around the fire pit & a collection of straightened wire hangers ready for roasting marshmallows after dark.
The very best thing about our island was the freezing cold creek that was full & deep on the other side of the island due to a damn somewhere along the way. Keep in mind that this property was smaller than a city block so every bit of it could be seen at one glance. When we were old enough we could not wait to go to the dock. The dock over the creek had a wonderful rope swing that was our goal as soon after breakfast as we could talk our parents into it.
As I looked at the “Fifty-Fivers Go to Kindergarten” snapshot I suddenly realized that next year in 2010 we would be turning 55 years old! This just seemed so momentous & important….born in 1955 & about to turn 55! I wondered what they were all doing in their lives at this point. Sadly we lost one cousin in our twelfth year to an accident, and I only had sporadic contact with one other cousin and even that contact was just what our mother’s told us about each other. You know; an email from my mom may include the news that my cousin had her first grandbaby or was in the hospital. The four of us that remain have not spoken much over the years, other than weddings & funerals which all ended up with us saying we really ought to keep in contact more!
I put the thoughts aside as easily as I put mom’s photo album aside that day. But later, while on the long ten-hour drive home I began to fantasize about writing an article on the 55’er Club turning 55! We had acquired or made up the special “55’er Club” status when we were old enough to sleep in our very own tent, except for our poor boy cousin. Yes, you can easily assume we had the expected signs up stating, “No boys allowed” & “55’er Club only!”. After all, the entire family gathering was based on us & our special-ness right?
You may be wondering where FaceBook comes into this story. When I got home from the visit to my parents, I wrote a comment to my one cousin that I knew was on FB. I asked her what her favorite memories were from our camp-out days. I was shocked at the quick & enthusiastic response I got from her! I then posted some photos, including the one that had sparked the memories in me.
She immediately wrote that we must have a 55’er Club Reunion in 2010 to celebrate turning 55 years. My first response was that all I wanted was some FB connecting, not an awkward gathering of people we don’t even know anymore! We are basically strangers now with completely different & separate lives, why get together in some neutral place & do small talk for a few hours?
She did not write me back that day, but she obviously did some good detective work because the next day when I opened my FB there was a new “Friend Request” from one of the “missing” cousins. We became “Friends” & she left several comments on the old pictures I had posted. The three of us had a great time sharing pictures & memories. Each photo would bring up more memories & more questions.
“Remember the time we scared ourselves to death with spooky stories in the tent?”
“What was that girls name who came to camp-out with you that one time?”
“Remember the great treasure hunts we used to make up for the littler ones?”
“My favorite thing was the inner tube ‘skiing’ we used to do while hanging onto the rope swing!”
‘My favorite was your mom’s cinnamon roles & Uncle Joe’s pancakes!”
Then cousin number four was talked into getting on FB by his daughter who had seen the 55’ers chatting it up & having a fun time getting to know one another again. I always think of him as “Poor K____” because being the only boy in our club he was understandably tormented by us girls. But I don’t think he really minded the dozens of group photos he had to endure with us, as we got older though! Boys are boys, cousins or not!
So, now all four of us are FB “Friends” & we are sharing pictures back & forth as quickly as we can over the next few weeks. I am reminded of my fear of going under the dock where the crawdads live, and the time we did some kind of paper-mach’e project & made a horrible mess all over one of the tents. I asked them if there really was a loose bull out by the outhouse or was that my imagination. We all agree that it is sad that as we entered our teen years & did not appreciate the gathering, it began to fall apart & was dis-continued.
It’s not as if we were the only kids there each year. We all had older & younger siblings that probably resented our importance. But it did not occur to us that it was all about us really. I don’t remember thinking that we were the main reason this wonderful family gathering happened every summer. It just did. Didn’t all families have a camp-out on their own island the weekend before starting school?
What a rich & deep family tradition this was! I have stories that can only be truly understood & enjoyed by these other 3 cousins of mine. And now that we have been comparing notes, memories & photos on FB we are no longer awkward strangers. I know what their children & grandbabies look like. I know who turned out fat or skinny. I know how many marriages & businesses have been started & not completed. We are revealing to one another what we coveted about each other. “You always had the best hair.” And “I was so jealous of your doll!” and “Which family brought a trailer instead of a tent the first time?”
If the idea of a Fifty-Fiver Club reunion should come up again, possibly in 2010 to celebrate turning 55, I don’t believe I will be as resistant as the first time.