Remembering the Campbell Family Reunions in Huntress Park

So, my husband happened to find a paragraph from the Clifton News regarding a family reunion. August is good month for reunions — just before children and teachers head back to school and weather is fairly predictable. I’m not sure of the publication date of the newspaper, but the snippet is about the August 22nd Campbell reunion on a Sunday afternoon in Huntress Park (Clay Center, Kansas) in 1937. It would be almost a decade before I would keep Mom walking the floors as her newborn “night owl”.

My parents were in attendance, having just married a year earlier. The article doesn’t tell who brought what that Sunday after church, but it does tell who was in attendance. Some of the people I knew, and some had died before my birth. It was a “Campbell” reunion and that was because Mr. and Mrs. John Campbell had settled in Kansas somewhere around a half century earlier. How do I know that? Well, by the early 1890’s, my grandfather, A. A. Kisby was married to the Campbell’s daughter, Grace. AA and Grace eventually birthed seven children and though some were still at home in 1937, some married ones were still in the area. A couple of them would remain within walking distance of A A’s wood burning stove.

But the Campbells hosting this reunion had other children besides the daughter that married my grandfather. I believe 13 Campbell siblings survived into adulthood. Several of them were at the reunion. Some, naturally, had scattered to other regions or couldn’t attend the event that required pies made the day before and wood-burning stoves to cooperate while most spent the morning in church before their drive to the park about twenty miles away for a few of them.

Here’s who attended that Campbell reunion: Mr. and Mrs.John Campbell, Mr. and Mrs. Dave Campbell and daughters, Mr. and Mrs. A A Kisby and family, Mr. and Mrs. Earl Kisby, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kisby and family, Mr. and Mrs. George Kisby and Lloyd, Mr. and Mrs. W.W. Cassett, Mr. and Mrs. George Taddiken and family, Mr. and Mrs. Dve Clrk and Marion, Mr.and Mrs. Robert Clark, Mr. and Mrs. Adelbert Loyd and Lorraine and Mr. and Mrs. Fred Renier and family.

That Campbell reunion eventually become less “yearly,” though we grandchildren of Mr. and Mrs. John Campbell certainly spent one Sunday afternoon in Huntress Park for many years. By the time we came along, or shortly thereafter, Huntress Park added a swimming pool which, after renting, yes, renting, swimsuits, we could use while the adults visited under the shade trees following  their business meeting. Funny how the two main things I remember about the rented swim suits heaped together in wire baskets were that they were faded and mine usually came with an oversized shiny silvery safety pin to adjust or attach the strap. Can you imagine renting a bleached out swimsuit these days? Can you imagine outgrowing one and donating it to the swimming pool as an act of charity. On the other hand, for those of us who only swam once or twice a summer, and that was sometimes in a creek after we checked for water moccasins, renting a suit was logical.

 There are stories about the reunion events and some of the people who attended, but that’s is for another time. Eventually the reunion moved from the park to a meeting place inside, then to one of the farms of the grand/great-grandchildren of Mr. and Mrs. John Campbell. One of the last gatherings was held at my brother’s in conjunction with my mother’s 95th birthday. We made ice cream, but we plugged in the freezer so it’d churn, so that alone might have made the old-timers think our generation lacked initiative. I think all, though, would have smiled when we guests toured the hoe and fire tool manufacturing operation my brother started a few decades ago. Naturally, like good Campbells, non-essential work is not done on Sundays.

I’m concerned fewer families hold family reunions now. I find that sobering. Siblings scatter far from each other, even out of country. Only with concerted effort, times with grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins happen at least once a year. Families splinter and marriages crumble so that gatherings start having less “history in common” and awkward questions get asked and answered with greater vagueness. The “remember whens” too often leave heads tilted and eyes squinting and then someone realizes the event was with someone not at the reunion, maybe even now part of another less structured family reunion. .

I think one of the saddest comments I ever heard happened a few decades ago around Thanksgiving. A pleasant young man had walked my groceries to the car with me and, being the conversationalist I am, I asked if he was looking forward to a Thanksgiving dinner. He wasn’t. I was so surprised and with but a little, “Really, why not?” from me, he explained. His parents, and I guess, his grandparents, weren’t still married. He said he had so many grandparents he didn’t know them all, but with the various ways his family had been scrambled and recombined, he’d be going lots of places and  none would feel like family. Isn’t that heart-breaking? What has happened? I say this with less levity than it might read: we don’t have family trees anymore; we have family vines.

God intended for a husband and wife to marry and raise a family in spite of the inevitable difficulties. Life can be going right even when it’s hard. When there’s abuse, no question – get out to a safe place. But when the disagreements are because we didn’t get our way, grow up. If I were running the world, and you can rest tonight knowing I’m not, I wouldn’t even let children remain in the home with a live-in arrangement because that is proof there is no commitment to the welfare of anyone but the “number ones” who set up the arrangement. I am sick of stories about maimed and killed children because some sleep in leech lost his temper or some drugged out female couldn’t remember she had children to care for. I love “grace” and “forgiveness” but grow up and assume the responsibilities or take the consequences. Children deserve a good home.

Bottomline? We need more family reunions that celebrate family. That 1937 Campbell reunion had a major war ahead of them and some dust storms and crops would be eaten by grasshoppers. Within the next few years, several who sat at the picnic tables that Sunday afternoon would die. There were farm accidents ahead for some. Marriages and births would come along so there would be happy times, but there would be hard times, too. They would cry together and they would laugh together over the course of the next few years. They would visit in each other’s homes from time to time . . . because they were family and they cared about each other. I know at the elaborate gatherings held at the A A Kisby house, guests would not begin their meals without prayer and they would not get back in the buggies or cars until they had sung together, “God Be with You ‘Til We Meet Again.”

When our line of the Campbell descendants held our several-day reunion last summer, we didn’t go to Huntress Park. We came in from several states and one family came from out of country. Of course, not all could attend, but those who came visited lots of sites our ancestors knew as everyday places. We did a lot of visiting and catching up. We extended our gathering to include both of our parents side of the family for part of the time together. We siblings and our children remembered, because it is how each of us do life, to pray before each meal, and sure enough, as we got ready to pile into cars headed in different directions, we sang “God Be with You ‘Til We Meet Again.”

This ole gal shed a few tears as we sang that parting song. We had one uncle left of the previous generation and we were short several cousins. There are no guarantees everyone who gathered last summer will attend the next reunion. Life is short and in many ways, unpredictable. Bottom-line, if you’ve not had a family reunion lately, August is a good month to hold one. If you hold a grudge instead of a reunion, August is a good month to get rid of the grudge. So was July and so is September. October… You get the picture – grudges get in the way of good mental health and surely you’re old enough now to realize none of us is perfect. Be the best example at your next family reunion so that when you’re no longer able to attend, people will remember your kind and thoughtful ways.




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