My family is ending a 30-year tradition this Christmas.
Our household celebration won’t include a member of “the Greatest Generation” this year. Our last one standing was Edward D. Keeler, who died in April at 96.
His sister, Ruth Ayers, started the tradition in 1980, and my mother-in-law’s Christmas visits quickly became a highlight of the year. She taught my wife Patti, son Jess and me about her lifelong love, contract bridge.
Ruth also revived a tradition from Patti’s childhood, the game Tripoley, which now is reaching into a fifth generation.
We used a homemade game mat Ruth had created from oilcloth, carefully embossing it with card suits and denominations, plus marked-off spaces for the pennies we bet on each of the game’s categories.
After Ed’s wife died in 1994, he too made the annual Christmas trip to Kennewick, reversing most snowbirds’ winter course and flying north from Redondo Beach, Calif. He and Ruth, who lived in Helena, Mont., coordinated their Christmas visits until her death in 1996.
When Ruth and Ed visited, our three sons collected far more than the pennies bet on Tripoley. They learned of Ruth’s service with the State Department in Egypt, Palestine and Costa Rica during and soon after World War II.
And that she had flown around the Middle East on a British military officer’s papers, carrying diplomatic pouches to places where female U.S. workers weren’t supposed to go — at least not officially.
From Ed, the boys learned bits and pieces about the manufacture of airplanes at Douglas Aircraft, where Ed worked for four decades. He started at 60 cents an hour when Douglas was building Dauntless dive bombers for World War II, and stayed through the Korean and Vietnam War eras when Skyraider attack aircraft were built. His last job was working on the tail-mounted engine housing of the jumbo DC-10 jetliner.
Some of their stories were far more mundane. Neither of them ever ate anything with fins.
Their distaste for fish was rooted in the Great Depression, when their father, an enthusiastic angler, took the family trout fishing virtually every summer weekend. Their family of five could take home a limit of brook trout — 40 fish each — from the streams near their Harlowton, Mont., home.
Because Dad was a railroader, he could get ice blocks from the Milwaukee Road’s ice house to chill their catch in a basement tub to keep it fresh until the next weekend outing.
Even on ice, the fish soon lost their appeal.
But the story of all those trout has survived the Depression to entertain two new generations. And though the two who lived it are gone from our family, we still recall it when Christmas comes by getting out the Tripoley board and the old sock full of pennies, which also date back far into the last century.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Ken Robertson is Executive editor for the Tri-City Herald. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.