Eighteen and counting
Our father died twenty years ago. Since then we three brothers and spouses have gotten together nearly every year to celebrate our relationship. Despite the age differences of four and eleven years between my younger brothers and me, there is no mistaking our physical resemblance. Seeing us together in action, we’re like three peas in a pod. The get-togethers are high points of our year.
This year we went to Put-in-bay, Ohio, a resort-town with 125 year-round residents on South Bass Island in Lake Erie. It’s a short ferry ride from Port Clinton, a Toledo suburb. The place has morphed from a laid back park for day-trip picnickers and strollers to a heavy duty partying destination. We chose to go the week after Labor Day after the revelers were gone.
Every year our get together includes a raucous euchre tournament, with cheap trophies for the top two scorers. In the tournament, everyone plays a set with everyone else. There is plenty of fun and trash talk. I was the original tourney czar but received abuse and suffered mental anguish over my sincere, if a bit complex, method of selecting partnerships. I’ve been replaced and am now the resident curmudgeon.
The tourney used to be decided on one long, loud evening. The authorities were never called but we were sometimes embarrassed by the bursts of laughter. This year, with two of us over 80, the play was slower. It took three nights to complete.
It also may have been slowed a bit because one of us has early dementia and used an assistant to help make decisions. And a new person, possibly a candidate for family membership, was there. She fit into the group nicely but we carefully monitored her to make sure she didn’t have a way of pretend-cheating we didn’t know about.
When the final hand had been played, the youngest brother and his wife (married almost 50 years) won the honor of storing the trophies until next year. It was past 10 PM and the two oldest were nodding off. My motion that there be a recount by an impartial auditor died for lack of a second.
Along with being with my soul-mate brothers and sisters-in-law, another favorite experience this year was learning more about the decisive naval battle at Put-in-bay on September 10, 1813. Two hundred four years-ago, almost to the day we were there.
The Perry’s Victory and International Peace Monument and National Park commemorates the establishment of the world’s longest undefended border. It honors those who fought in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. And it celebrates long-lasting peace among Great Britain, Canada and the US with a Doric column, rising 352 feet over Lake Erie.
Like the Cold War, the Korean War, Viet Nam and Cuban Conflicts are arguably connectable to WWII, the War of 1812 was a holdover from our Declaration of Independence in 1776 and The Revolutionary War.
Unlike us, Canada, also a British colony, did not seek independence. France, who had supported our revolution, was at war with England. The British had captured Detroit and Fort Michilimackinac in Michigan. Fort Dearborn in Chicago had been ordered evacuated and, after a fifteen minute battle, was captured by a force of Potawatomi Indians supported by the British. We were once again essentially British subjects.
The British supported the indians in their struggles against us for their lives and livelihood during our westward expansion. Our westward expansion was stymied. Our Northwest territories of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois, couldn’t be secure until the British Navy’s Lake Erie blockade was broken. Supplies for British troops striving to recapture the US and hold on to Canada depended on controlling Lake Erie. A battle for supremacy of the Lake in the War of 1812 was inevitable.
During the battle, due to unforeseeable changes in wind direction and velocity, twenty six year-old American Naval Commander Oliver Hazard Perry sailed directly into and decimated the British naval force under twenty five year-old Commander Robert Hariot Barclay.
Following the victory, Perry dispatched one of the most memorable messages in military history to General William Henry Harrison: “Dear Genl, we have met the enemy and they are ours …”
Life is full of ironies. Commander Barclay, having lost an arm in a previous battle lost the other one in the Battle of Lake Erie. After the shooting and shouting stopped, both Commanders attended funerals of their men together. Perry reportedly put an arm on the handless Barclay’s shoulder to stabilize him during ceremonies. Their remains are buried side by side under the Memorial Column.
The relationship we celebrate is a legacy of our parent’s. We always looked forward to the tomfoolery at our father’s siblings’ annual family reunions and deer hunting extravaganzas. Though he never went to college, he was a dedicated daily cross-word puzzler, with a large vocabulary, and spoke percent English.
And our gentle mother was a legendary elementary grades teacher. Though she already had a life-teaching certificate before she married, she kept chipping away at a college education and graduated from Eastern Michigan University at age 46: The year I graduated from high school.