When it finally quit going wrong
Just good folks. That’s how I’d describe the 150 or so people, overwhelmingly Canadian, who attended our Reist/Archer family reunion near the little farming communities of Didsbury and Olds north of Calgary.
Sure, there was a nuclear physicist and linguist among us. But they were the odd exceptions. Many more were things like cement truck driver, bear hunting guide and professional paint baller, electrician, missionary, gold prospector, welder, retired minister. And, of course, farmers, dairymen, and ranchers. Hard working, blue collar types. Many full, grizzled beards were in evidence. In short, a bunch of good ol’ boys. And their good ol’ wives. And a passel of their good ol’ kids.
The Harmattan Community Center where we met was a former one room school house. To the east was an infrequently traveled gravel road. Beyond that, fields of golden rape seed and barley stretched to where the sky reached down to touch the prairie.
The Center was surrounded by a couple of acres of closely mown grass. When Linda and I checked in Friday evening, the field around the building was largely empty. When we’d returned the following morning, husky pickups and big trailers with pop-out sides had sprung up like mushrooms after a spring shower.
A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet
Much of my time at the reunion was given over to trying to figure out just how I’m related to all these people. And trust me, after a day and a half, I barely scratched the surface.
Why? Our ancestors had big families. It wasn’t so much the challenge of deciphering the family tree-as the forest.
One example, in particular, stands out. A man, I believe he was an Archer, married a woman who, I believe, was a Reist. They had four or five kids before she died.
He then married her sister-and they proceeded to have at least four or five more. Most of these kids were girls. (I’m confident that the man marrying two sisters part of the story is accurate.)
My grandmother, Mabel, was one of these Reist girls. She, in turn, married my grandfather, Wesley Swalm. (That my middle name is Wesley is pretty good evidence that he’s the right guy.)
Wesley answered the Lord’s call to be a Nazarene minister. So, the young couple moved to Pasadena, California where he studied at a Nazarene Bible school. From there, they went to Berkley where he earned an advanced degree. Wesley then got a job as the librarian at the fledgling Nampa Nazarene Bible College just west of Boise.
By now, it was about 1918 and Wesley and Mabel had two children of their own: Paul, my father, and his big sister, Alice.
Wesley, however, also had something a good deal less cuddly: TB. His health failing, the family resorted to a desperate expedient to try to cure the deadly lung disease for which no real cure was known: cold. And there was no better place for cold than the Alberta prairies in winter. So they returned to Didsbury where, during the day, Wesley did his best to pastor a church. And where, at night, he was put in a frigid tent in the hope that exposure to “fresh air” would cure the “consumption” that was destroying his lungs.
The “cure” didn’t work; Wesley died in 1922 at the age of 32. But Linda and I were able to find his gravestone in the little Didsbury cemetery.
After dinner on Saturday night, there was an auction of a table full of white elephant type items to provide “seed money” for the next “Reist/Archer Reunion” three years hence.
The auctioneer (don’t even ask me which grove of the forest he hails from), owns a nearby spread numbering in the hundreds of acres. He wore a smudged baseball cap with a seed company logo perched above his deeply tanned face. Despite the small potatoes at stake, he did an admirable job calling out the “Who’ll give me eight? Eight? Eight? Eight! Nine? Who’ll give me nine? Nine . .? Nine? Last time . . . No? Eight! Sold,” he cried, gesturing with an outstretched palm, “to the young lady there on the side!”
Auctions are fun, but they make me nervous. It’d be just like me to not pay attention, absent-mindedly raise my hand when chit-chatting in the back of the room, and find myself the owner of something that would be very difficult to explain when I got home.
But I managed to avoid that pitfall this time and actually bring home something that both fit in my suitcase. And makes me proud to own. It’s the
Archer & Reist Family Cookbook
So, for only $15 Canadian, I’m now the owner of what the sticky note on the plastic bound book describes as “Good item for auction as is the last one left!” It’s no surprise that it’s the last of the Mohicans; it was produced for the 2010 Archer Reist Reunion.
As the auction continued, I sat to the side and and enjoyed skimming recipes like “Pickled Pineapple,” and “BBQ Stuffed Peppers,” both by Marybelle Archer. But it wasn’t until I got to this one, that the book really spoke to me:
DAVE ARCHER’S SECOND-BEST COMPANY DINNER
Go to a nice grocery store, and find the frozen food section.
Look for the package with the best-looking meal pictured on it.
Buy it and take it home.
Put in microwave.
By the time I finished, I was in tears. I immediately searched out Dave-and got his autograph. (He’s the guy who organized the paint ball war outing.) When I got home, I proudly showed my family my acquisition and asked our daughter Jocelyn, who’s a chef extraordinaire, to read the recipe around the kitchen island. Halfway through, she was laughing uncontrollably. As were the rest of us.
So, am I going to the Archer/Reist reunion three years from now? Johnny Cash puts it best for me: If the Good Lord’s Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise, you can count on it.