This is the first Christmas in 32 years where I don’t have to climb aboard a plane to go back home. Instead, we drove 14 miles on E. Lake Sammamish Blvd. past gorgeous homes with flashy light displays against a dark lake. It’d done nothing but rain here recently, but it’s dumped 15 feet of snow in the mountain passes to our east which means GREAT SKIING as soon as I get my snow tires on next week. We spent yesterday with my parents going to Christmas Eve services at St. Mark’s Cathedral downtown and generally lazing about today.
It was nice being restful considering what the rest of my week was like. On Dec. 14, we got word that a beloved aunt, Alice Hinnenthal, had died at the age of 100. She caused an uproar when she showed up at my father’s 90th birthday party last year. Then my parents and brother Steve went to visit her in Minneapolis this July, a meeting that Steve chronicled so tenderly in a newspaper column as they all sensed it’d be the last time they would see each other.
Alice had some 39 descendants which, together with spouses, totaled about 51
people who were flying or driving in for her funeral on the 21st. Starting when I moved to Virginia 20 years ago, I had been seeing more and more of my father’s side of the family, all of whom descended from Siegfried Duin, who immigrated to Minnesota from northern Germany in 1903. He was the 11th child and only 17 when he came over, as he was due to be conscripted by the Prussians for the draft when he turned 18 and his family didn’t want that to happen. He already had two brothers over here and a sister named Gretchen who’d become pregnant outside of marriage and so was being shipped to the New World to not bring disgrace on the family. Siegfried married a young woman named Alma Engelbert and they settled in a small town called New Ulm, had four kids, the 2nd of whom was Alice and the 4th being my father. Unfortunately, my grandfather died at the age of 38 during a botched gall bladder operation, leaving behind a wife with four kids, the youngest being my dad, age 2.
The three sons grew up and all had military careers and moved away from Minnesota. Alice stayed, married the pastor’s son and moved to nearby St. Peter and had five children. When we would drive from Maryland during my childhood to visit them, I remember the hot summer evenings we’d spend playing with their kids and generally hanging out. For years, we all attended each others’ weddings and sadly one funeral – my cousin Anne who died at age 39 of breast cancer – until now. None of the Duins outside the Hinnenthal clan (Alice had 5 children, 13 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren) were coming to the funeral that I knew of, so after lots of thought (Veeka was off school and I wasn’t working), I decided to go. Who knew when I’d see a lot of these folks again and besides, Alice deserved it! I managed to amass enough frequent flyer miles to get us to Minnesota and back plus pay for a rental car and hotel.
So we flew there on the 20th, getting up before the crack of dawn and arriving at SeaTac (the local airport) to find huge crowds there at 4 a.m.! We got to Minneapolis by mid-day (thank God for clear weather nationwide), got to Alice’s viewing, had tons of conversations with people, then left for some down time at the Mall of America and the hotel pool. The next day, we attended the actual funeral at St. James Lutheran, where we marched in the procession (we were, after all, part of the extended family) and met folks who were descendants of another of the Duin sons (George) who’d emigrated along with Siegfried. From them and other folks, I pieced together more of my grandfather’s story. I had thought our family was basically peasant farmers but no, they were well-to-do landowners near Leer and Hasselt, small towns on the German/Dutch border. And my great-grandfather had traced the names of all 11 of his children in cement circles at the family farm. When Siegfried died, my grandmother had to do sewing and take in borders to make ends meet. Someone told me that the boarders got to eat butter with their bread, but not the kids, as Alma couldn’t afford butter for both. I can’t imagine not being able to afford butter.
Veeka and I had been through Minnesota 18 months ago when we were moving to Alaska and had connected with some of the clan back then, but many who were at the funeral were folks I’d not seen in since a 2008 reunion in Montana. We all then drove about 70 miles to New Ulm for the burial in a cemetery I had visited the summer before. It was so odd to have only been there the year before in the hot July sun and then to be so quickly back onsite on a cold December afternoon. Mercifully, it was not snowing, as I’m not sure that my rental Kia could have gotten through any white stuff without sliding everywhere. At the reception afterwards at St. Paul’s (these are all Wisconsin Synod churches), I had more conversations with many family members who, like old friends, I have known for many years. Finally, we pulled away.
Thankfully, our trip back the next day was problem-free, although we did have an eight-hour layover in Houston. But an old friend was in a nearby terminal at IAH, so he came by where we were camped out at one of the United Clubs. I only get 2 passes a year for those clubs and thankfully I had my two for this year, as it was a lifesaver for us to just relax there. And the BlackLivesMatter demonstrations that partly shut down the Minneapolis airport came a day after we departed on the 22nd.
The rest of our month has been quiet. I’ve taken Veeka to Christmas lights displays, a dinner party with old friends from Maryland, a gingerbread house decorating party at her school and a Lucia fest at a Lutheran church in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. There’s a lot of ethnic Swedish places in the area and this church had a service on Dec. 13 wherein a high school senior marches down the aisle in a white gown and a crown of blazing candles set atop her head. Other girls march down as well holding candles but the “Lucia queen” is actually balancing them. It was a rainy, nasty evening but the service was interesting and the treats afterward were quite the sugar high.