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June 15, 1997

Family Reunion #1

"you can take me down
to show me your home
not the place where you live
but the place where you belong

"Something to Say" -- Toad the Wet Sprocket

First, a thumbnail family history written by my grandmother, Mabel LaRue.

After sailing from Antwerp on the ship "Nahant" on November 25, 1845, Nicolaus and Maria Treybig, with their four children, were shipwrecked near Torbay, England, on March 18, 1846, during a storm. They waited two months for passage on another ship, the "Timeleon," leaving England on May 5, 1846. While awaiting passage in England, the English Bible Society gave the Treybigs a Bible which is still in the family.

They arrived at Galveston on August 18, 1846. Going inland, they settled near Shelby. The oldest son, Friedrich, married Katherine Wunderlich in 1859. Their first child, Karl (he was later called Charles), was born January 10, 1861, in a log cabin near his grandparent's home. Charles married Magdalena Bietendorf in Rutersville on December 15, 1892. Twelve children were born to this union, one dying in infancy. Over the years, they moved about quite a bit. They left Rutersville in 1904, moving to Nordheim where he farmed until 1908, then moving to Gillett.

In 1915, they moved to Orange Grove; in 1923, to Casa Blanca; and finally, in 1930, to Poth. A daughter, Hilma Klaus, lived there at that time. Since times were hard and the last children had left to find work in the city, Charles quit farming in 1937. He and Magdalena moved to Stockdale. After a year or so, they went to San Antonio to be near their children. On November 24, 1945, Magdalena died and was buried at Roselawn Cemetery in San Antonio. Charles then went to live with his daughter, Frieda Moravits.

In 1947 he moved back to Wilson County to live with his daughter, Hulda Sachtleben, in Floresville. In 1950 when his daughter, Mabel La Rue, moved there, he came to live with her until his death in 1959 at the age of 98. He was a quiet man; a wheelwright, farmer, and carpenter. He made several pieces of furniture that are still being used by the family today.

Magdalena was born April 15, 1874, at Hofgeismar-Kassel, Germany. At age 3, she came to Texas with her brother and widowed mother. They landed at Indianola, going inland to Fayette County where they had relatives. Through the years, she made many pretty and useful quilts, and enjoyed visiting with the women who came to quilt.

Both Charles and Magdalena had only a third grade education, yet were able to read, spell and do arithmetic as well as most high school students of today. In later years, they enjoyed reading and playing solitaire. They always had a nice vegetable garden and flowers in the yard, especially roses.

I have always been glad that my great-great-great-grandparents came directly to Texas when they emigrated. I have always felt that every person has some connection with the land--not necessarily the land of their birth, but with the land of their belonging. With me, and with most of my family, such is Texas.

When I drive up Farm Road 539 to the intersection with State Highway 87, I am facing roughly south. Though 87 officially is a north-south highway, the long straight stretch between San Antonio and Stockdale really runs almost east-west. So if I turn west (officially "north") I go to La Vernia and then to San Antonio. If I turn east (officially "south") I go to Stockdale. Such is our state highway system.

None of the Treybig descendants live in Stockdale anymore, though I am less than 15 minutes away even if I take my time driving a leisurely 55 down the highway that now has a 70 mph speed limit. But several of my ancestors have lived in Stockdale in the past--all of the Treybig brood are familiar with it, it has a central location to all of our homes, so we often gather in Stockdale for the annual Treybig family reunion.

The Community Building is on Main Street just across and a little down from the Post Office. There are no real parking facilities, but in this small town it's perfectly safe to park along the sides of the street. I pull off Main Street and park in the small lot of the doctor's clinic, which is closed on Saturday. The doctor who runs this clinic rotates himself between three towns--La Vernia, Stockdale, and Nixon, which is another 20 minutes south on 87, just across the Gonzales County line. Behind the Community Building is a tiny brick hut, about 10 feet across and 10 feet tall, that in bygone days served as a jail and in more recent times serves as a miniature museum. Next to the old jail rises the only thing that gives Stockdale a skyline--the new water tower. Up until a few years ago Stockdale had the old silver-colored water tower that serves as a rallying point for many small towns, but time and the elements eventually rendered it obsolete. The new water tower looks more like a massive off-white golfball on a huge light blue tee.

In front of the Community Building is a tall plaque, slightly higher than my head, and about 3 feet wide. I have grown up reading this plaque. When I was young, I remember standing there and reading every name on it, to see if it listed anyone I knew. Many of the family names I recognized, but most of the personal names I didn't. It was a list of all the people from Wilson County who died in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. Later, when I was a teenager, the names of those who had died in Vietnam were also added. To the right of the plaque, and a few feet closer to the street, flies the U.S. flag. This year, we held our reunion on Flag Day. Flag Day and July 4 are the only days I ever wear my flag t-shirt. I know I am about to go into a room full of veterans and I wonder briefly if any of them will consider my shirt "desecration," just because it looks like a flag. On this day I don't pause to read the plaque like I usually do, my allergies have been plagueing me terribly and I'm about half-stoned on antihistamine. All I want to do is get inside, sit down, and drink about a gallon of iced tea.

The main doors are open and I walk through into the foyer. To the left is the office where you go to get your license plate tags renewed, to the right is the town council meeting room. After struggling for a few seconds with the double inner doors, they come unstuck and grate open with a loud banging noise and I walk in. The noise makes everyone look up. I have arrived.

My grandmother hasn't seen me in a while. I am closer to her than to anyone else on my mother's side of the family, and still miss eating lunch with her every Sunday after church, since she moved to Gonzales to be closer to my mother and have easier access to a hospital since her heart attack several years ago. After hugging me, she punches me lightly in the arm and just says, "Flag Day." Well, at least she approves of my shirt.

The antihistamine has made me thirsty. I finish off one glass of tea almost immediately and refill it, then start looking around for someone familiar. There are lots of familiar faces, of course, but I have trouble fitting them all with names. I am not that familiar with my maternal line, since they had a tendency to scatter across the state more than my dad's side of the family did. My mother was an only child, so I have no immediate aunts, uncles or cousins on that side of the family either.

I end up shaking hands and talking with an old man by the last name of Sommers. He walks with a stoop and has sparse white hair and blue eyes, and wears glasses. We are very distantly related in that his mother and my great-grandmother were sisters. So he isn't even part of the Treybig family but he always shows up and is, of course, always welcome. He says he's from Elgin so I tell him where I live. He's never heard of Sutherland Springs so I tell him how to get there and he's satisfied.

Soon we are joined by Curtis and my great-Uncle Kermit. Kermit is my grandmother's brother and has the thick head of hair gone white with the ice-blue eyes of all my older maternal relatives. Curtis, who falls one generation younger than my great-relatives, still has a full head of dark hair speckled with gray. I'm not technically related to him. He was married to my great-Aunt Erna's daughter, who died of leukemia when I was very young. It is a custom in this area to refer to older distant relatives as "Uncle" or "Aunt" as a term of respect, rather than just calling them by their first names. But to me, Curtis has always been just Curtis, no uncle needed. I worked for him when I was a teenager, helping him build fence and clear brush on his country place which is just up Highway 123 from Stockdale. Curtis is a fellow reader, and he once bequeathed to me his collection of old Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks, and even gave me a pocketknife. To give a pocketknife is a wondrous thing. This universal tool fulfills many roles when working on the farm or ranch, and some, like myself, don't feel completely dressed until I feel the weight of it in my pocket. I don't carry the knife he gave me anymore, since my wife gave me a Swiss Army knife for Christmas a few years ago, but it sits with my small collection of other pocketknives atop the old chest-of-drawers that my great-grandfather built many years ago. I spent many summer hours listening to Curtis tell me stories of his career in the military, of places he'd seen, and what it was like growing up on a tobacco farm in North Carolina.

I've already mentioned in a previous Rambling the things we talk about in our small towns. First we discussed the rain. Compared to the past few years of drought, this year's rainfall has been truly phenomenal. This moved into a brief talk about how the price of cattle was up, and somehow moved sideways into a discussion of politics. Then after a short mention of the Panama Canal we were heavily into World War II. This is where I just kept my silence and listened.

Mr. Sommers had been in the Navy during the War. He told how his ship had arrived at Guadalcanal after the Marines had secured it, and how they all looked like zombies walking around with dead eyes, eyes made empty by seeing too much. He said that all the men on his ship had given their candy bars to the Marines to try and improve their morale. The conversation wandered into wartime communications and Curtis mentioned how some Indians (native Americans, to you pc folks) had helped out by using their native language as a code. He stumbled over which tribe it was, so I threw in, "Navajo," just to show that I wasn't completely ignorant on historical matters. This was my only contribution to the talk of the War as I listened to more stories of where and how they'd all served, and how dumbfounded they were that now the Japanese wanted the U.S. to apologize for using the atomic bomb on them. There was a brief pause and I wondered if anyone else was remembering my great-Uncle Vernon, who had drowned in a training accident during the War, and who I had never known.

Finally it was time to eat. Curtis said a blessing for the food which sounded a lot like the prayer my dad says for such an occasion, and we moved into line for the meal. Ham, venison sausage, black-eyed peas, two kinds of lasagna and more kinds of potato salad than I cared to count were spread out for us on two long tables set end-to-end. For dessert I grabbed a wedge of apple pie and a brownie, then had to leave to make it to work on time. I shook hands with Curtis again and heard Uncle Kermit say, "Take care!" as I went out. I turned and smiled with a "See you later."

I guess my t-shirt hadn't upset anyone after all.