Sarah Keck (Martha’s Mom, standing), Sarah Dunbar Oesterling sitting on Sarah’s left
4th of July always meant the Oesterling Family Reunion when I was a kid. This wasn’t the BIG Oesterling Reunion with all of the clans, it was just a get together of the immediate family of Albert Oesterling.
Albert and Sarah Dunbar Oesterling were my Great-Grandparents. They lived on the Oesterling family farm in Summit Township in Butler County, Pennsylvania. That was a grand five miles or so from our farm, but it seemed like another world. It was a world populated by Oesterlings. Oh, there was the occasional Protzman or other neighbor, but most of the houses after you turned off of the Herman Road were owned by family. These “young” Oesterlings bought pieces of the family farm and built their own homesteads as they began their own families. The family farm was originally, and obviously, quite large.
My Great-Grandparents were married on July 4th. That date was probably selected to avoid taking any time away from the farming as it would have been a holiday anyway. I don’t remember anyone discussing that this was an anniversary when I was a child. Great-Grandma had died in 1940, many years before I was born and although Great-Grandpa had grown into quite an old man, he still reveled in these family gatherings!
All ten of Sarah and Albert’s children, their children and grandchildren came to the reunion. Everyone brought several dishes to share. Saw horses with boards on them were set up in the shade. I could hardly wait to sample the food because it all looked so good. I’ve since learned that the Oesterlings all seem to be great cooks!
My Grandmother (Alberta Keck), the oldest of Sarah and Albert’s children always made cooked cheese. This was a thick (think along the lines of Cheese Whiz) texture, very smelly, yellow cheese. It was made from dry cottage cheese curds that were left to hang over the sink for a while, then cooked with something. I believe it was probably evaporated milk since Grandma loved to use evaporated milk. That’s another story for another day though. The cheese was very popular with Grandma and her siblings. I’m not sure the next generation was as fond of it. It smelled a bit like limburger and they slathered it on rye bread or crackers. Grandma Keck had a pink casserole with a black lid which she used to carry the cheese to the reunion.
There were big galvanized tubs of beer and soda under the trees. The tubs were packed with the drinks and ice. You could just help yourself. There were probably also pitchers of water, iced tea and lemonade, but I remember the soda. Soda was quite a treat for us as we only got it a few times a year. Oh, the wonder of being able to just grab as many bottles as I could hold!
Along the north side of the property was a dirt road. I think it began as a farm lane but a few of the Oesterlings had homes along this road by the 1950s. A game of horse shoes was set up in the lane. I can remember watching my Grandpa Keck try his hand with my Oesterling Great-Uncles. They never seemed to tire of the game.
The kids played hide-and-seek, tag, or other kid games all around the house. There were a lot of kids! My cousins were always a bit of a mystery to me until I got older. Some were my age but were Mother’s first cousins. The men who were her age were her uncles. My mother was the oldest child of the oldest child. She had uncles her age and younger. Even today, I have to think or resort to my data base to figure out how people in the Oesterling family fit together.
The ladies of the family seemed to have an unending supply of chatting to do. They got the food out, cleared up after the meal and then sat to talk. As I think back, that was probably what they had done for generations. It wasn’t often that they all got together, so this time must have been precious to them.
The party went on all day. My father would have to go home to milk the cow by supper time but I remember staying later. He must have come back to get us some years because I remember driving down the road a bit to a spot where we could sit in the car and watch the Butler fireworks. He hated the traffic so he would not take us into town so see them. I also remember some years when Grandpa and Grandma Keck took some of us to the overlook to watch the fireworks, but it was usually my parents. I’ll bet we were asleep before we got home!
Today I still want to spend my 4th of July at a picnic. The 600 miles and the years that separate me from Butler and those picnics hasn’t changed my idea of 4th of July bliss.