I grew up in a rural neighborhood, about 5 miles south of Dodge City (population about 18,000 when I was born, about 22,000 when I left home 18 years later). For all of my childhood, my family attended Christ the King Lutheran Church. The church was the result of a merger between Hope Lutheran, a small rural church with a tight congregation of families who were primarily 2nd or 3rd generation Germans, and one of the two Lutheran churches in town. I was always very aware of the history of these two churches. My cousin and I were the first babies baptised in the newly formed church. Probably, as well, because the growing pains of the merger were still going on through much of my early youth. The church members were one to my generation, but I was always aware that some of them came from the city church while others were from the little white building with the steeple that sat nearer my home until it was loaded up on two flatbed trucks and moved to town to become the chapel for the old folk's home.
The important thing in my mind was that nearly everyone in that church was related to me. If they weren't a great aunt or uncle, I could usually figure which degree of cousin we were by tracking the family tree on the back of church bulletins with my mother. Those who weren't directly related were often related to relation. I couldn't make any direct claim on the Gerdes family, for instance, but as first cousins to my first cousins, I thought of them as mine anyway.
Two of my great aunts had married into the Dirks family, and since my grandfather once told me that he "stole" grandma from another Dirks, I claimed all people with the Dirks surname, as well. And within all those faces of people I knew by blood, became familiar many people who were just as much fixtures in the church, and therefore my childhood, with whom I could not claim a common ancestor.
I probably first became aware of Jo as the sister of my aunt's good friend. And by the time I was seven or eight, I knew her as the grandmother of a classmate. Since that classmate and his little sister visited our church often with their grandmother, Jo was someone I began watching for at church. She became someone I knew and looked forward to greeting each week.
We celebrated Jo's 88th birthday at my house this past summer. My children--Jo's great-grandchildren--made her a birthday cake. (I married that classmate's big brother, if you are wondering.) Jo has been a part of my family for almost twenty years now and in that time I have added her stories and her relations to my own.
It's nice to think about. My world has gotten bigger, but the roots run just as deep.
Jo and her hubby, Harold (passed away in 1977) with Uncle Doc.