My father was one of five chidren and his side of the family got together for holiday gatherings (I was the oldest of the grandchildren.)
In my youngest years, everyone gathered for holidays at Grandpa’s house on Kensington Avenue in downtown St. Louis. Their house was old but classically comfortable. Later my father and mother or my father’s brother or sister and their spouses would host the group,
In the beginning, however, I remember holiday gatherings on Kensington Avenue. Grandma, our family’s amateur actress with a big laugh and a great bosom, would hug us as we entered her house. Grandpa was a short man always smartly dressed in a suit coat, vest and dress pants. He said his hellos with a slight English accent having originally emigrated from England. Growing as tall as Grandpa was a rite of passage for the grandchildren.
Grandpa Taylor also had a big lap. As kids, we didn’t realize that Grandpa had a world-class hernia and wore a truss, creating a rather large bulge where a bulge shouldn’t be. (He had the hernia repaired when he was in his 70s.) Grandpa was a professional photographer, so the dining room was equipped with his tripod, camera, lights, cables and some sort of timer already set up to take the family photo.
Two tables were set up in Grandpa’s large dining room, one for the adults and one for the kids. At the adult table were Dad, Mom, Uncle Buzzy (also a professional photographer), Buzzy’s wife Dorothy (our most glamorous relative), Aunt Grace (the most well-educated of the group but somehow the one who didn’t always seem the wisest), Grace’s husband Ollie (the quietest of our relatives), Uncle Ralph (who sold cars for a living, was the flashiest dresser, was somewhat of a rascal and was often kidded about a very impressive nose), Ralph’s wife Martha (a great gal and my Dad’s favorite because Dad and Martha compared crossword puzzle answers every day on the phone), and then there was Gertrude, silly aunt Gertrude. Gertrude was married briefly, I think, worked briefly, I think, but in the end lived with Grandpa because well, her plans never seemed to pan out. Gertude always annoyed the grandchildren because she insisted on kisses before passing out pieces of candy.
The gathering was always high decibel. My Dad could tell good stories; Grandpa, at the head of the table, would issue orders; Uncle Buzzy, who with his wife had his own thriving photographic business, had his own stories to tell (Uncle Buzzy was the family’s only World War II veteran); Uncle Ralph would then add his exploits. The lady relatives were all busy serving things, coaching the kids and whispering among themselves about the Taylor men. I remember lots of loud voices, laughter and plenty of good food.
As dinner ended, Grandpa would get up and tell everyone to turn his way for the family photo. Not everyone turned as directed; some exited to go to the washroom; some went to the kitchen for refills; a couple cables would be tripping hazards; Grandpa would get a bit frustrated and many minutes later….Grandpa would finish the setup, announce everything was ready and would run to his seat to be in the time-delayed picture and….…nothing happened.
Grandpa would run back to the camera. My Dad, who once worked for Grandpa, would rush to help, but then Buzzy, the younger professional, would join him and fidgety Ralph would stop by as well. The rest of us would get back to our desserts while the “experts” were at work. When the men except for Grandpa were back in their seats, having thought they were ready for the photo, we all turned and smiled again. Ralph would then decide because he was taller, he should change places with Grace and on and on. Grandpa would get ready again, turn on the timer, rush back to his seat and boom…the lights would go off and the picture was taken.
Taking the family photo was at least a 45-minute effort, but the process of accomplishing those photos was a memory for a lifetime.