Roy and I spent about 20 hours in the car this weekend, driving down to Delaware and back for a very quick visit with my family. We made the trip to attend the funeral service for my Uncle Rodney, my Dad’s older brother (far right, above). I was glad that Roy had gotten a chance to meet Uncle Rodney a couple years back. Despite the fact that Rodney wasn’t well then, he still had that sparkle in his mischievous eyes and Roy immediately related to his fun-loving spirit—something that both my sister, Eleanor, and my father, Bob, spoke about at the service at St. Peter’s church in Lewes.
And I was glad Roy got a chance to meet more of my cousins and aunts and uncles (although I know he was having trouble keeping them all straight—there are a lot of them!). The summers we spent together at the beach, the family gatherings with lots of good food—always crabs and corn and tomatoes—are just memories now, as we don’t come together much outside of funerals these days.
With Rodney gone, my Dad and his brother Val are the last of their generation. In the photo above, taken at my parents’ wedding in 1954, that’s my grandmother Honey (the one who was such a great cook) flanked by her sons—Val and Bob on the left, and Doug, Bill and Rodney on the right. (Val and Doug were still teenagers then.) There had been six boys, but Honey’s firstborn, my Dad’s oldest brother Jack, died in the war, commended for his bravery on a Merchant Marine vessel bombed near the Sea of Murmansk. Their father, an officer in the Navy, had also died before this picture was taken.
It’s a big family and an interesting family. Uncle Rodney was named for his father, Donald Rodney Evans, Sr., who carried his mother’s family name. The Rodneys arrived in Delaware from England in the 1600s and spawned generations of politicians, including U.S. senators, congressmen, attorney generals, Governors of Delaware, and, most notably, Caesar Rodney, who signed the Declaration of Independence. Many of these family members are buried in the graveyard of St. Peter’s church, where we celebrated Uncle Rodney’s life.
It turns out our Rodney ancestors weren’t just politicians and seafarers, but farmers, too (wheat and barley, mostly). And many years later, my Uncle Rodney did some farming as well—chicken farming! Though Rodney would eventually work for the Delaware Pilots Association and was, in our eyes, most famous for his sailing prowess, he and a friend, as young men, had a broiler bird business. My Dad, who spent a few summer vacations working for his older brother “processing” chickens, couldn’t help bringing up a few chicken stories at the funeral. I noticed he didn’t tell the one about the hundreds of baby chicks they had one year in his grandmother’s attic though. That was during the Depression, shortly after the whole family (10 people under one roof) had moved back to Lewes. Everybody had gardens and chickens in those days.
So maybe Roy understands my farming urges a little better now. Certainly I know where his come from, and he can blame his family, too. I thought it all started with the summer he spent on his uncle’s sheep farm in Scotland when he was 16. But when I asked Roy today what his farmer uncle’s surname was and he said “Fowler,” I got curious. I checked and it turns out the origin of the name Fowler is the Old English word fugelere, which literally means bird-catcher (fowl-er!). Ahh, now, this explains why Roy is so enchanted with all birds, not just chickens.
And here Roy and I thought we had hatched this whole farming scheme all by ourselves. Who knows? Families are with us, inside and out, no matter how far or close.