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A summer for family reunions

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

This has been a summer of family reunions, large, small and mine. First was a Trail reunion held in Wichita, Kansas. It was a hot dry August day like the whole summer has been in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas this year. Some 60 of us gathered inside in a nice cool church hall and the atmosphere was warm and friendly. A Trail reunion means food aplenty and there was that too.

As always I was intrigued to find that the most prevalent surname was not Trail. Not a problem, as the ladies who graphed out genealogical family trees were quick to show how mothers and grandmothers were tied into the proud Trail lineage. Most present even admitted the relationship even if it were through marriage.

Mid-afternoon, two 9-year-old boys needing to know exactly how they are related went to the genealogy table. Trail (yes that is his first name) White and John Mueller voiced the question. After a bit of confusion, one of the ladies, John's grandmother said "Oh, you're kissing cousins." This caused some alarm between the boys, 9-year-olds being what they are, so a great aunt said, "That just means that you can get married."

That response brought total collapse to the whole conversation. Another great aunt saved the day by saying "You're family and you're friends." That was just right and the boys tore off to play some more. The perfect description for all present, wouldn't you think?

Notably in attendance were Jayme and Alisha Hesterman, both U.S. Army, who were on a two-week leave from Iraq. Interesting stories from a married pair that has "been there and done that" serving in an active combat zone. Their proud mama was Roxanne, the event organizer, who was born a Trail and raised in Atwood, Kansas.

This past week Grannie and I hosted a get-together with six of us Trail first cousins present. Six out of fifteen total on my side compared to the 70 some first cousins that my mother could count. Mary came from Ocala, Florida, and her sister, Dorothy, from Salem, Oregon. Brother Tom came from Long Pine, and Margaret from Lexington, Nebraska. Chuck, Jim and I have local addresses. Spouses included, we had a great time visiting and catching up on each of our lives. We are family and we are friends.

Dorothy was the star of our gathering as she brought a 100+ page spiral bound book that she has just put together. It is a treasure in that it details a three year period in the lives of our grandparents, Rollin A. and Sadie B. Trail. During that time R.A. Trail was employed as a surveyor and engineer with the newly formed U.S. Reclamation Service, now called the Bureau of Reclamation. Dorothy had found and copied documents prepared by him in laying out and constructing an extension of the Okanogan (Irrigation) Project-Colville Indian Reservation in 1909. That project is still active today and Dorothy included pictures of the structures at present as well as when it was rebuilt in the 1930s.

During the time that the Trails lived in the Lake Kachess, Yakima, Sunnyside, Prosser and Omak areas of Washington the couple resided in tents or shacks on what was then the raw frontier. Their second child (my father) Doane and uncle Rollin were born there joining an older sister Rosalie who was born in 1907. One can only imagine how tough life must have been trying to tend to young children in such a setting but the existing documents show little complaint.

Family lore concerning our grandfather is a story of a different world from life today. He was born youngest of many siblings and somehow his parents never seem to come up with a proper name and just called him "boy." That worked well enough until he started school and the teacher sent home a note explaining that "boy" just didn't work so the family decided that he should be named Rollin and Rollin it was. Rollin Trail was fine until he enrolled in the University of Nebraska and needed a given middle name. There he was on his own so he determined that Alexander would make a nice middle name because that would make his initials RAT, appropriate to a wry Scottish sense of humor.

He met Sadie B. Smith at Doane College, hence the source of my father's name. Following a 17 year courtship during which time he worked as a civil engineer for the U.P. railroad, they married and she joined him to live in various temporary railroad construction camps.

Sadie began life in a notable way. A party of Mormons migrating to Utah camped for the winter near Nebraska City. Evidently quite a few members died that winter from typhoid or some other disease that it now preventable. After the travelers broke camp one spring morning to continue their trek westward, the neighbors walked through the campground and checked on possessions that were left behind. An infant's cry led them to a baby that had been carefully wrapped in warm blankets and abandoned. The neighbors, named Smith, could only surmise that the baby girl's parents had died and friends or relatives determined that their own survival would be threatened with an additional mouth to feed. It must have been an agonizing decision to leave the healthy baby girl behind hoping that the neighbors would check on the abandoned campground and take the waif in.

The baby's original name and family lineage was forever unknown but the Smith family did indeed take her in, named her Sadie B. Smith and nurtured her to adulthood. She was schooled and qualified as a school teacher.

The Trail's married life turned out to be much shorter than their courtship. They left Washington shortly after Sadie's health deteriorated and moved back to be surrounded by family near Nebraska City. Then in 1916, when my dad was six years old, his father died of infection from an abscessed tooth. Young widow Sadie rose to the need and raised her three children as a single mother on the wages of a teacher and school principal.

Now I probably don't have all the details correct but have no fear, my cousins near and far will not hesitate to offer correction. That is why family reunions are important, why families need to gather to learn of the past and take pride on our heritage. We are family and we are friends.

That is how I saw it.

**Dick Trail

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Thanks Dick for the perspective of your Trail side of the family. Reunions are great, and should be partaken by all families, especially those who think they may be forsaken by others or do not always agree on many things.

-- Posted by TravRN on Tue, Sep 6, 2011, at 6:33 PM

Love those family reunions and hearing the stories. It would have been great to record all those told over the years from family members who have passed on. It's people like you who keep the memories alive and ones we can pass on to the next generations.

Also, God bless our troops and their families!

-- Posted by TrailMcFee on Thu, Sep 8, 2011, at 1:01 PM

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Dick Trail
The Way I Saw It