Andrew Shaw drove under the banner as he turned into the parking lot of the picnic grounds. The banner was a flimsy thing. It looked like it was made with spray paint and stencil on plain white newspaper. The letters alternated red and blue. "WELCOME SCIENKEWEICZ FAMILY REUNION," it said in big friendly letters. Andrew had been following garage sale-esque signs for the past two miles. Each one pointed the way to this place.
The lot was filled with cars, so he had to park several rows from the pavilion, near the entrance. He got out of his white Cavalier, and looked at the structure.
It was one of those big steel and concrete pavilions built as a public works project during the Depression. One side of the structure was occupied by a fireplace made of large rocks. All of the pavilion, save the fireplace was painted a deep forest green.
Under the roof were six picnic tables, they too were painted the same shade of deep dark green. Each table had a wood surface with wrought iron piping for legs, and could seat six comfortably, maybe eight to ten in a pinch. Each table was chained to one of the massive posts.
Andrew quickly glanced at his reflection in his car's sideview mirror. He ran his fingers through his curly black hair, and smoothed down his bushy black mustache. He adjusted the collar of his denim jacket and headed toward the pavilion. Just two days ago the jacket would have seemed unusual, but it seemed that fall was trying to get an early start this late August weekend. A nippy breeze was blowing in from the north, making it too chilly for just the tee shirt he wore underneath. The sun was shining, though. That helped mitigate the cold.
As he approached the pavilion, the indistinct shapes moving in the shadow of the building began to take form. There were women, at least a dozen of them, unloading picnic baskets and boxes and coolers and bags. They were making slow progress of their work, though. They seemed more intent on catching up on family news than getting lunch ready. The women's ages seemed to run through at least three, maybe four, generations, from early twenties to at one that could have been well into her eighties. Next to the fireplace was one man sitting on a portable chair, tending the food cooking on the grill in there. It smelled like hamburgers. Beyond the pavilion there was about a hundred yards of flat grass before the lake. Off to one side of this was set of playground equipment. Teeter totters, a merry-go-round, and a large jungle gym. The equipment was swarming with kids. In the center of the grassy lawn, a large group of men and a few teenage boys were playing a pick-up game of touch football.
As Andrew approached the pavilion, one of the women noticed his approach, And pointed him out to the others. The conversation died. "Can I help you?" asked matronly looking lady, probably in her fifties.
"Um," said Andrew, "this may sound strange, but I think I'm related to you."
"Really," said the lady, with just a touch of skepticism. "Tom! Get over here!"
The man by the fire got up, put a crutch under each arm, and hobbled his way over toward the stranger.
Tom was almost certainly the spokeswoman's husband. He was also in his fifties, like the lady but in much better shape. He was toned, trim, and on his foot was a sizeable cast. "Can I help you?" he asked, with just the same intonation as his wife.
"Yes," he said shaking hands with Tom. "My name is Andrew Shaw. I was born and raised in California. I never knew any of my father's family, and he refused to talk about them.
"About a month ago he died, lung cancer. On his death bed that he told me that he had changed his name from Scienkeweicz to Shaw when he came to LA from Iowa.
"After the funeral, I decided to come to Iowa on my vacation and try to track down my roots. I am also doing some freelance media consulting work in for a station in Davenport.
"I was driving out of Des Moines on Interstate 80, when I saw your sign about the family reunion, and decided to check it out."
Tom brought his hand up to his chin in thought. "Your father's name wouldn't happen to be Bill, would it?
"As a matter of fact it was." said Andrew.
"Why, my father and your grandfather were brothers. That makes us first cousins once removed." Tom took his hands off his crutches, but kept the supports tucked under his armpits, and gave Andrew a hug. "Welcome to the family."
"Are... are you sure we're related," Andrew exclaimed a bit taken aback.
"Let's go find out."
Tom hobbled over to the one table with no food being set up. Laying on the table was a large sheet of posterboard with the Scienkeweicz family tree on it. It went back five generations to the original emigrant from Poland in the 1820's. Andrew checked his father's birthdate against the one listed on the tree. They matched.