Our father died 20 years ago. Since then we three brothers and spouses have gotten together nearly every year to celebrate our relationship. Despite the age differences of four and 11 years between my younger brothers and me, there is no mistaking our physical resemblance. Seeing us together in action, we’re like three peas in a pod. The get-togethers are high points of our year.
This year we went to Put-in-Bay, Ohio, a resort-town with 125 year-round residents on South Bass Island in Lake Erie. The place has morphed from a laid-back park for day-trip picnickers and strollers to a heavy partying destination. We chose to go the week after Labor Day after the revelers were gone.
Every year our get-together includes a raucous euchre tournament, with cheap trophies for the top two scorers. In the tournament, everyone plays a set with everyone else. There is plenty of fun and trash talk. I was the original tourney czar but received abuse and suffered mental anguish over my sincere, if a bit complex, method of selecting partnerships. I’ve been replaced and am now the resident curmudgeon.
The tourney used to be decided on one long, loud evening. The authorities were never called but we were sometimes embarrassed by the bursts of laughter. This year, with two of us older than 80, the play was slower.
It also may have been slowed a bit because one of us has early dementia and used an assistant to help make decisions. And a new person, possibly a candidate for family membership, was there. She fit into the group nicely but we carefully monitored her.
When the final hand had been played, the youngest brother and his wife (married almost 50 years) won the honor of storing the trophies until next year. It was past 10 p.m. and the two oldest were nodding off. My motion that there be a recount by an impartial auditor died for lack of a second.
Along with being with my brothers and sisters-in-law, another favorite experience this year was learning more about the decisive naval battle at Put-in-Bay on Sept. 10, 1813. Two-hundred-four years ago, almost to the day we were there. The Perry’s Victory and International Peace Monument and National Park commemorates the establishment of the world’s longest undefended border. It honors those who fought in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. And it celebrates long-lasting peace among Great Britain, Canada and the U.S. with a doric column, rising 352 feet over Lake Erie.
Like the Cold War, the Korean War, Vietnam and Cuban conflicts are arguably connectable to WWII, the War of 1812 was a holdover from our Declaration of Independence in 1776 and Revolutionary War.
In 1812, England and France, who supported our revolution, were at war. In our relentless push westward, the British supported the Indians’ struggles against us for their lives and livelihood. The British captured Detroit and Fort Michilimackinac. The Northwest territories of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois couldn’t be secure until the British navy’s blockade of Lake Erie was broken. And supplies to British troops, hopes for recapturing the U.S., and holding on to Canada depended on controlling Lake Erie. The War of 1812 was inevitable.
Due to unforeseeable changes in wind direction and velocity, 26-year-old American naval commander Oliver Hazard Perry sailed directly into and decimated the British naval force under 25-year-old Commander Robert Hariot Barclay. Following the victory, Perry dispatched one of the most memorable messages in military history to General William Henry Harrison: “Dear Genl, we have met the enemy and they are ours …”
Commander Barclay, having lost an arm in a previous battle, lost the other in the Battle of Lake Erie. After the shooting stopped, both commanders attended funerals of their men together. Perry reportedly put an arm on Barclay’s shoulder to stabilize him. Their remains are buried side-by-side under the memorial column.
The relationship we brothers celebrate is a legacy of our parents. We always looked forward to the tomfoolery at our father’s siblings’ annual family reunions and deer hunting extravaganzas. Though he never went to college, he was a dedicated daily crossword puzzler, with a large vocabulary, and spoke perfect English.
And our gentle mother was a legendary elementary teacher. Though she already had a life-teaching certificate before she married, she kept chipping away at a college education and graduated from Eastern Michigan University at age 46: The year I graduated from high school.