Family Matters

Ethel Oechler Griffith, born in 1911, died in August 2008; photo probably from some time in the 1940’s or early ’50s.

My Aunt Ethel died last week. She was 97 and a pip to the end. The story goes that when the MD told her of her post-surgery options, she said, “Christ, man, I’m 97. It’s time to go.” That sounds like her. I remember her as the cheerful, loud, bumptious, irrepressible aunt, who always brought nice presents and good times to her nieces and nephews. I remember the song-fests, with my father playing the piano, that Ethel and her sister Ruth would engage in when they visited. And some of the heated discussions that took place between the two women, with my father swearing softly in the background.

My sister, Carol, played a very large part in these last ten years of Ethel’s life, visiting her in Florida, bringing her back to Pennsylvania after a hurricane made that necessary, and looking after her in her nursing home. Carol was with her to the end. This marks the last of that generation on both sides of my family, so now it’s the Oechler kids who are the oldsters.

Carol, Mike, and Mary Oechler in the back; June and CJ (Carl Jr.) Oechler in the front, probably about 1952. I distinctly remember emptying diaper pails of oogy water over the fence into Mr. Green’s field. The diapers belonged to Brother Mike.

June, CJ, and Carol Oechler, in the back; Mary and Mike in the front. About 1953 or ’54.

Baby Mike is a bit bigger, and Sister Mary is definitely not happy to have lost her place as youngest child in the line-up. On the other hand, Sister Carol is looking like the little demon she managed to be all her life. She was the one most like Aunt Ethel, I think having managed to resist the docile middle-child syndrome entirely.

This is the last photo of all five of this generation together, taken in 1996, on the occasion of my mother’s funeral. CJ, on the far right, died a few years later. And the rest of us grew older. I moved far away from Pennsylvania, but Mary (middle) and Mike (left) still live in north central Pennsylvania, within spitting distance of Pine Station and Camp Cedar Pines, the family homestead up Pine Crick. Carol is also still in Pennsylvania, but a bit further away, in Lancaster County.

I’m not sure what I’m grinning and gritting my teeth about in this photo, but it was a family occasion, so I’m sure there were lots of possibilities. And I have always wondered who the guy was whose arm Aunt Ethel was holding onto in the first photo here . He got cut out of it very deliberately, it seems to me. Ah the mysteries of family. –June

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4 Responses to Family Matters

  1. Janet says:

    Aunt Elsie (actually great-aunt, to me) was the fun one in my family. She could beat all her grandsons at poker. By the time I knew her, she was no longer driving, but there were stories of her “heavy foot” in her youth. She also made it well into her nineties – I wonder if there’s a correlation?

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  2. terrygrant says:

    I love those old pictures. Your aunt sounds like the “fun one”–we all had one, didn’t we?

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  3. Carla says:

    Ah, the mysteries of families indeed! My heartfelt sympathies on the loss of your aunt. What a wonderful memory you have shared.

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  4. Del says:

    I’m sorry you have lost your irrepressible aunt. But I like her attitude about it!! Very few people have the insight to know when the time has come. My family has only one member of the last generation, my mother’s sister Dorothy (82) still lives in Portland. I don’t see any family pictures these days, but I remember that in the 40s and 50s most pictures show the woman hanging onto the man. I’ve always wondered about that; was it associated with the losses of WWWII?

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