On Saturday, August 12, more than 40 members of our Bayerl clan gathered for a day-long reunion. It was the first such gathering for us, outside of weddings or funerals, in some decades. Our wing of the Western New York (WNY) Bayerls comprises the ten offspring (five girls, five boys), and their families, of our parents, Joseph Bayerl (1914-1989) and Irene Ciezak Bayerl (1923-2011), both lifelong residents of Buffalo, NY. The reunion was initiated and hosted by our second youngest sister, Anna (aka “Betsy”), at her lovely home directly fronting Lake Ontario in Kent, NY, about 35 miles west of Rochester. Anna had purchased this bungalow on the lake with her now deceased partner, Doris Santercole. Doris was a consummate photographer with a lot of home remodeling skills as well. She and Anna had made major improvements on their home over the years, with a resulting comfortable, open, flowing, and aesthetically pleasing residence. Doris was beloved among our family as much for her warmth and smile as for her ability to “herd cats” in getting us all together for some memorable Bayerl family photos.
My wife Andrea and I drove up from the DC area (Rockville, MD) on the Friday before. We arrived at our motel in Brockport, NY around 5pm, and after a short rest, drove the additional fifteen miles to Anna’s for supper. My sister Kathy and her husband Gene Goundrey from central New Jersey had arrived at Anna’s an hour before us after their own daylong drive. Kathy was much enjoying her recent retirement from an administrative job at Rutgers University. Gene was still working as an accountant. He originated from a dairy farm in Quebec, just outside Montreal, but had been living and working in the States as a full citizen for many decades. Their beloved son, Byron, had died at age 19 in 2007 from complications of muscular dystrophy. Byron was an especially gifted child and young man, much celebrated as a Rutgers freshman who got around campus in his electric wheelchair, and also as the writer of thoughtful, often-inspiring newspaper columns for the Rutgers student paper. He was social and outgoing and often a center of attention at family gatherings.
Our youngest sister Meg (aka “Margie”) arrived with her family about an hour after us. She and her husband Luis Fanfan, a Bolivian native, had flown from their home in Denver to Pittsburgh the day before. After an overnight in an airport hotel, they had rented a car and driven to State College, PA to pick up their son Inti. Inti had taken summer courses at Penn State prior to starting his freshman year there on the following week. Inti was a fine student-athlete and had been recruited by Penn State’s esteemed fencing program after his many years of success in national youth-fencing competitions.
All our arrivals were met with hugs and laughter, and after settling down, and toasting our reunion, we enjoyed a delicious supper prepared by Anna and our sister Marian, who had taken the day off work in Buffalo to drive down and help with the preparations. Marian and Anna were especially close, and the two together had visited Andrea and me in Maryland recently. Marian’s husband, Bob Stein, and their adult children, Ben and Jo, would be arriving on Saturday.
Anna’s windowed dining room overlooking the lake gave us a beautiful view of the sun setting into golden waters. Anna is a public-school librarian in Rochester and especially enjoys her summers in her year-round lakeside home. She had enough bedroom space for all but Andrea and me, who had committed to coming only the week before.
After a hearty breakfast near our motel, Andrea and I began our drive back to the lake on Saturday morning. The menacing looking skies opened a torrential rain as we slowly wended our way through the small college town of Brockport. The hard rain continued for about half an hour until the sun peaked through the clouds again. As we got closer to Anna’s, the pavement was dry and there was full sun.
The rain was a concern in that most of the day’s festivities were planned for outdoors. Anna had rented a large white tent for the day, which relieved some of our weather concern. In addition, her absent next-door neighbor had agreed to let us use some of her lakefront area for the day, including her covered gazebo.
There was a relaxed yet anticipatory vibe in Anna’s home when we arrived around 11am. Food was being prepared and arranged for the scheduled 2pm luncheon. Family members had also been invited to bring specific kinds of food for a potluck component. Inti and his Dad, Luis, were carefully making “Bayerl Family Picnic” and “Parking” signs to place on the mailbox along the road.
Anna had conceived the idea for the reunion a year earlier at a family vacation. Some of us sibs had been vacationing together one week each summer for some years. In fact, Anna, Kathy, Marian and I (and spouses) had spent a week together a month earlier on Lake Vanare, near Lake George, NY in the Adirondack region. But Anna wanted to host a gathering of the whole family, and the rest of us concurred. Her lakefront home was the perfect location, less than an hour’s drive for the locals on both the Rochester and Buffalo ends of WNY.
The Party Begins
By 1 pm additional family members began to arrive. Among the first was Marian’s spouse, Bob, who drove from Buffalo with their adult daughter Jo and her partner Pam Dreslinski. Jo and Pam had joined the family at our summer Lake Vanare vacations for the past two years. They had also attended a big family wedding with us last December, and had just bought a home together in a Buffalo suburb. Pam was becoming as much a part of the family as Doris had been.
After he unloaded their food and camping gear, Bob and I took a little walk along the stressed lakefront. Lake Ontario’s waters had risen some three feet in recent years and the evidence of this was easy to see in the many cracked and failing cement retaining walls. This past spring, Anna had recruited friends and family for a weekend of laying sandbags to bolster the cement walls. Bob recalled carrying the 50-pound sandbags and placing them at strategic points along the wall. For now, Anna’s home was high and dry. But long-term concerns remained as all the Great Lakes continued to rise with the climactic turn to higher yearly precipitation.
We spread some lawn chairs on the edge of the lakefront as Bob also scouted out potential camping spaces for the sleep-tent he would put up that evening. His and Marian’s adult son Ben arrived from Cleveland, OH a short while later. Ben’s spouse, Julie Burrell, had another family event to attend that day. Ben would also be camping out along the lake that night. Ben had just started a high school teaching job in Cleveland and was a little nervous at re-entering this field. He had an MFA in creative writing and was an experienced writer and educator. Julie was a popular professor in Black Studies at Cleveland State University. They’d purchased a home together in Cleveland and were starting to feel settled there.
Next to arrive was our brother Larry with his adult daughter Val and younger daughter Bridgette and her boyfriend Ryan. Val had been injured in a gymnastics accident in her youth and had never fully recovered, but kept making some progress. Bridgette was preparing to return to the University of Pittsburgh for her sophomore year. Larry is a retired Buffalo police officer, a lawyer and former Deputy Police Commissioner in Buffalo. I’ve gotten to know Larry better over the past year owing to our participation in a family book group. (Anna, Marian and Meg also participate with us in a monthly conference-call discussion of an agreed upon work of mostly recent novels). Larry is an astute judge of human character and a consummate reader of serious fiction and nonfiction. He has brought most of the liquid refreshments for the occasion, including a variety of beers, soft drinks, juices, and bottled water.
Our brother Tom and his spouse Karen arrive next. They have three adult, married children, each with two young children of their own. Tom and Karen are active grandparents for their growing brood and are models of parental generativity. They hosted the last family reunion in the mid-1980’s at their home in a suburb of Buffalo. Two of their kids, Michael (the oldest) and Kristen (the youngest) live with their families in the Rochester area. The middle son, Greg, and his family live fairly close to Tom and Karen in Buffalo’s outer suburbs.
Tom and Karen’s growing family represents a major element of the Bayerl family’s extension into the 21st century. Michael is a committed high school Social Studies teacher and his spouse, Sara, has an administrative job at the Rochester Institute of Technology. They were both solid student-athletes and are inculcating their son Jack (10) and daughter Cate (5) with lots of care, fun, and loving discipline. Michael and Cate arrive first, Cate energetic and outgoing despite her recently broken arm set in a pink cast. Sara arrives with Jack after he’s completed a winning baseball game for the travel team that Sara helps to coach. My own childhood nickname was “Jack” and I’ve had a fondness for my namesake over the years, albeit at a distance. It does my heart good to see Jack playing with his Dad at the party, sporting a large printed “BAYERL” across the back of his baseball shirt.
Greg soon arrives with his spouse Heather and their two very young girls, Hannah and Harper. Greg is a consummate salesman of industrial technology and one of the most outgoing of our clan. Heather is a former nursery school teacher with an obvious love and attentiveness to her two girls. Like their father, the two girls are energetic and outgoing.
Kristen and Nate live in nearby Spencerport, NY. They are both practicing pharmacists and active parents to Lily(2) and Josh (8 months). Nate is a Rochester area native withlove of travel and adventure that Kristen shares. Their kids are obviously well loved, and the couple plans to continue traveling with the young ones in tow.
Our brother Bob and his spouse Susan arrive next. They both retired in March and took off together on a 10,000 mile, 6-week road trip around the country. They have lots of interesting stories from their travels, though both confess to being happy to sleep in their own bed and prepare their own food again. Susan worked in nursing and was a VP for a large home-health company for many years before she retired. Bob is a master builder and jack-of-all-trades who worked at an industrial supply company for most of his career. Their two adult kids, Sarah (28) and Jon (27), are both married. Sarah and her spouse Adam Larkin have a 10-month-old girl, Penelope. Jon and his spouse, Michelle, married last December at the beautiful, old St. Louis church near downtown Buffalo. Andrea and I drove up for the wedding and ensuing reception at the renovated Hotel Lafayette downtown. (Sarah was unable to make our reunion but I did get to see her and Penelope a few days later at her parents’ comfortable country home in Wyoming county. I also had an opportunity to get to know Jon and Michelle more deeply after Jon invited me to join them for chicken wings at a restaurant in Buffalo’s Allentown neighborhood a few days later.)
Our oldest brother Marty, and his wife, Katy, were among the last to arrive. Marty is a retired Buffalo police detective and Katy a homemaker who also worked many creative jobs inside and outside of the home. Marty had a health setback last year but has made a big recovery. Everyone was very happy to see him so nimble and chipper.
Marty and Katy adopted three girls: Amy, Megan and Holly. Amy and Holly were born in South Korea and both have adapted well to their lives in America. Megan was American-born in difficult circumstances. She became estranged from her adoptive family and had died a few months previously, leaving behind a husband and three grown children. Amy had arrived earlier with her partner Jeff. Each of them had two girls from previous unions and both were still active parents. Holly also had two girls but was unable to attend the reunion.
Our sister Joan had recently moved to Florida and was unable to make the reunion. She had a long career with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and was still working as a Product Safety coordinator. Her son Steve, a recent college graduate now working in Buffalo, did come and shared some about his work and an upcoming trip to China.
Andrea and I had adopted two older children from Brazil in 1998, Denise (now 31) and her brother Lucas (27). They both lived in the DC area and had children of their own. Denise’s three-and-a-half-year-old son, Caleb, had been a regular visitor at our home. Lucas’ two boys, Arjun (5) and Naveen (3), had recently re-entered our lives and Andrea and I were both grateful for it. Neither of our adult kids attended the reunion, but they were asked after by some of their cousins, who remembered them from our joint summer vacations at Lake Vanare.
A Beautiful Summer Day and Evening
Most of our reunion consisted of hanging out, talking, eating and drinking, on the beautiful lakefront lawn behind Anna’s home. It was a marvelous environment for relaxing and catching up with one another. As Anna observed to me: “there’s nothing like real-time, face-to-face contact in this age of email and smartphones.” Many of the conversations and sharings were priceless.
The sun shone bright and clear for most of the afternoon except for one brief shower, when the tent and gazebo gave shelter to us all quite nicely. The young cousins played and frolicked with one another and with some of their more nimble aunts and uncles. The late luncheon was delicious and satisfying, complemented by all the many side-dishes that people had brought. There were some organized games late in the afternoon, and as the evening came on, a number of the overnight campers began setting up their tents. Our brother-in-law Luis had laid wood for a campfire and lit it as the sun set in the western end of the lake and the temperature began to drop. Andrea and I drove back to Brockport for the night, planning to return to Anna’s for another full day visit on Sunday. Those who camped overnight at Anna’s (Meg, Luis, Inti, Marian, Bob Stein, Jo and Pam) all reported a windy but memorable night as the annual Persead meteor shower was in full display in the dark skies over Lake Ontario, a fitting display of natural fireworks after the long-anticipated Bayerl family reunion.