Home > Good Stuff, Life > “Laughter is Good for your Peristaltic Movement”

“Laughter is Good for your Peristaltic Movement”

goodstuff1That was one of my favorite quotes from a long weekend of memorable lines as a group of my extended family members gathered together to make new ties and strengthen old ones. “Peristaltic movement” refers to digestion and indeed, between the food, drink, and conversation, there was much to digest!

This is my official endorsement for families to make an effort to gather together, in whatever configuration, to celebrate their relatedness. Our family has always tended to be far flung and our reasons to gather anymore are not usually happy ones. I still don’t know what it is that makes our connection so special, but the strength of our family bond only seems to grow with time.

IMG_1807Aunt Diane (who turns 79 this month), ever the quick wit, tossed out that nugget of wisdom about digestion as we traveled the windy roads of northern Michigan, laughing all the way, past Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on our way to visit legendary Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor, a stone’s throw (or would that be a pit’s spit?) from Traverse City, the Cherry Capital of the World! In the midst of four days of near orgiastic feasting, peristalsis was in high demand as we continued to enjoy meals and stories that were in perfect keeping with our woodland adventure and were surely a comfort during the cool rainy weather that was, for me, a highlight. Begone, memories of Florida in August! … at least for a few days …

IMG_8628Having been one of the youngest cousins of my generation, I finally felt like a grown-up as the grand group of matriarchs (Aunt Louise, Aunt Marianne, Aunt Diane, and now Aunt Jenny Lou) shared some of the stories that weren’t “for young ears” in the olden days. We, in turn, did our best to shock them right back with our tales of teenage terribleness. With all of them standing proudly on either side of 80, they are unflappable. They’ve seen it all, heard it all, and in some cases, DONE it all! The years between us made a TTTHHHHWWOOOP! sound, as they were swallowed up in the vacuum of time. For a few days, we were all one….


Aunt Diane and Aunt Louise

Aunt Diane and Aunt Louise

Whether we intended it or not, our group was represented by at least one child of each of the siblings in my Dad’s family who’d had kids. Kathy came all the way from Oregon to join Aunt Diane and brother Chris (the children of Uncle Norman and Uncle Len), Nancy and I (my dad was the oldest brother, Ray) traveled from Florida, Carolyn arrived with Aunt Marianne (Uncle Rick’s family) from Ohio, and Uncle Dave’s daughter, Barb and husband Craig brought Craig’s mom, Jenny Lou, up from Columbus. Aunt Louise, gracious as she has been all the years I’ve known her, welcomed us with open arms. I’ll call it the “F-11 Summit”, some of the progeny of GR and Florence Fenner, held at the lake home of Aunt Louise and Uncle Dave (1930-2003) — “Cedarfen” — on Big Platte Lake in Honor, Michigan. Just a quick canoe trip up the Platte River from Lake Michigan, serenity abounds in the midst of the birches and pines, the deer and raccoon, the Queen Ann’s Lace and goldenrod … a scene right out of a Gwen Frostic print. (click here to watch wonderful Gwen Frostic video)


Kathy and Aunt Marianne


Chris and Craig

Spirits of those who have gone before us resonated in the pine-paneled walls with every round of howling laughter, and were felt through loving embraces when that fine line was breached to become a rush of cathartic tears. We felt the sardonic humor of Uncle Dave, the patriarch of Cedarfen, as the men in the group tried to use an unwieldy telescoping tent-pole to remove what turned out to be a dead bat that Carolyn had spotted hanging high in the cathedral ceiling of the great room. Their attempts were fruitless, save for a tiny tuft of fur that floated down, and the next morning we saw that blood had dripped down the beam. Yup, that was the spirit of Uncle Dave all right, giving us fodder for a sequel to the little book cousin Barb put together of his “Famous Fenner Tall Tales”…and select poetry about life and family at Cedarfen. I have a sneaking suspicion that he might have titled this story “A Gathering of Old Bats”…. No, wait, that’s what MY dad would have called it.

IMG_1829We managed to fit in a hike up to Empire Bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan and the distant Sleeping Bear Dunes and Manitou islands. 82-year-old Aunt Mary, who we learned had been referred to in her youth as “Fearless Fenner” (no doubt due to being the only girl in a family with 5 boys), hiking in her Espadrilles outpaced us all without breaking a sweat. We told her she deserved a medal of valor and that we would make one for her out of tin foil when we got home. This was before we took her on the ill-fated ride on the lake in a brand new boat. A submerged “something” caught the propeller and bit off a chunk. Still functional, IMG_1847we decided to head back at a good clip, drenching Aunt Mary and Jenny Lou in the back seats. The crew of the SS (small ship) Intrepid carried on undaunted….

Later on, a campfire warmed us from our boat adventure and the official Cedarfen songbook reminded us of our dads and their rich tenors and baritones. Though our group had a distinctly treble tone this time, the bass was filled in by our memories of bygone days with the wonderful fathers and husbands who made this such a “Fenntastic” clan.

IMG_1857Our family configuration is ever changing as members come and go, but at the heart of our group is something so wonderful, so life-affirming, so RICH, that IMG_8662no matter what happens in my own life I feel that power radiating within me, a legacy of strong men and stronger women, of a love so pure and unconditional that I feel the courage to step out and try, even to fall down, knowing that there will always be someone to help me up.

CEDARFEN, you are a magical, spirit-filled place….
May you continue to be so for generations to come.


Categories: Good Stuff, Life
  1. Mama Nance
    August 25, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    How lucky was I to be part of everything you describe !!!
    This getaway was, without a doubt, a panacea to all.
    Super location, food and fun!

    Most of all I really enjoyed everyones company.
    Thanks for the laughs and memories.

    Cheeseballs rock !!

    AKA…. The”Buckliser”

  2. Jeff
    August 27, 2009 at 4:58 am

    Mama Nance????

    The true Buckelizer is David…I am confused!

    Nice write up, Ellen.

    Cousin Jeff

  3. August 27, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    She should have written, “Honorary Buckelizer” for the weekend. All hail David, the ORIGINAL Buckelizer!!

  4. Karol Fenner
    August 27, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Thanks for the memories, you write so beautifully . . .I was almost there. Everyone looks great, the flowers too, and ,yes, I still have some old Gwen Frostic stationary. What an inspiration she is. Save the first two weeks of August next summer to gather on a lake in Vermont. Love all around, Mom and Aunt Karol

  5. Babs Renkert
    September 1, 2009 at 2:57 am

    Ellen…..what an amazing remembrance of our time…thanks for not mentioning those of us, ahem, me, who suffered as a result of ‘over-served’!! I am still smiling as I sort through the memories!

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