This past weekend mom and I made the trek back to the ancestral homeland. Not northern Europe, but eastern South Dakota. It was the occasion of the annual Mohror family reunion. For many families, such gatherings are days-long events. By contrast the Mohrors, in keeping with their (allegedly) German heritage, practice brisk efficiency. The reunion commences at noon with a tasty potluck lunch, followed by a short business meeting (I know; I don’t get it, either), a group photo of the oldest generation, and general dispersal.
The whole thing is over by a little after 2:00 pm.
This is slightly disappointing for my branch of the family tree, who drive four hours to get there. But it’s always nice to see our kin, for however brief a time, and since we were locked into an overnight reservation at the world-famous Pheasant Hotel, we had plenty of time to explore the wellspring of the Mohror tribe – Arlington, South Dakota.
Arlington was founded in 1880 and was originally called Nordland, with all streets given Norwegian names. It was briefly – and inexplicably – renamed Denver, but the postal service frowned, so the town fathers decided on Arlington (since there are no other cities named Arlington in the world, I guess). I don’t know what caused the Norwegians to lose their Valhalla on the prairie, but I imagine it was a bitter day when Olaf Street was renamed Main Street.
I expect the Battle for Nordland looked something like this:
The Mohror tribe came to Dakota from Iowa, I believe, though the circumstances of their migration are hazy. On my mother’s side, the clan fled west from southern Minnesota during the Sioux uprising of 1862. Seems like heading back east would have been the more sensible course, but my folk have never had much of a sense of direction.
Our first stop on the grand tour was American Legion Post 42’s damned impressive veterans’ memorial. It has life-size statues of the different branches of the service, plus an assortment of engraved benches, nine flagpoles and black granite tablets inscribed with the names of those from Arlington who served. We found my father, Clarence Junior Mohror, as well as others my mother remembered well. “That boy used to throw my shoes out the bus window a quarter mile from our driveway,” she commented, pointing at one etched name. “He was killed by a sniper in the war.” (Subtext: good enough for him.)
Next stop was the Arlington Cemetery. Apparently they mix Protestants and Catholics all together in this town, which seems a bit radical. We located the Welsh kin, with their modest headstones, then trooped down the hill to the Salley family plot. My great-grandparents, Warren and Sabina Salley, were early auto enthusiasts. They drove their new-fangled Model T all over the country in the years just following the Great War. Great-grandma collected pretty stones from the places they visited, and after her death a local craftsman embedded these small treasures in the family headstone. It’s not clear to me who is actually buried under it, though, as my mom casually commented, “I think they buried grandma in the wrong place. Grandpa was a little fuzzy in the head by the time she was buried.”
Next to the Salley headstone is a tall, stone obelisk. “Oh, there’s that Oliphant!” my mother exclaimed, and I looked around wildly for some unusual species of pachyderm. “Mom always insisted on putting flowers on that grave, since they’re supposed to be some kind of relative. But nobody knows who they are.” God bless, Oliphants. Gone but not forgotten. Well, gone and forgotten. But be-flowered, at least.
The Mohror dead are some distance away (perhaps the Protestants and Catholics are separated by distance, even if they don’t have their own exclusive graveyards). We are humble, unassuming people, and this is reflected in the simple headstones our forebears bear. However, a scion of some other branch of the Mohror tree has recently erected what can only be described as a Grand Edifice to himself (he’s not in residence yet, but apparently wanted to save his spot). I gather he made a fortune in almonds out in California.
Seems fitting. I’ve always said we’re all a little nuts.