The Meeting of the Minds

Growing up, I was fortunate – blessed, really – to have all 4 of my grandparents in my life. My brother and I have hundreds of memories shared with the Alderson’s and Rzepczynski’s, whether in New Buffalo, Kalamazoo, or at Gravel Lake. Yet despite all the time we spent with each set of grandparents, there were precious few moments or gatherings where all 4 of them were together. Of course, there certainly were those moments before I was born, but as a child, the idea that all 4 grandparents would be together was quite extraordinary and exciting. Whether a graduation party or the summer get-together at Gravel Lake, those shared family events were always memorable.

I have very few images of my 4 grandparents together as I knew them later in their lives, although I do have a few photos of them separately or as adults years before. Here is a fairly recent one with my two grandfathers:

William Alderson and Leo Rzepczynski, April 1995.

This meeting of the grandfatherly minds was in the spring of 1995, likely at my college graduation party; William Alderson is on the left, and Leo Rzepczynski on the right. This gathering represents one of the last family functions where all 4 of my grandparents were together; William Alderson died in December 1997, and Leo’s wife Stella passed away in January 1997.

As a youngster, I always eagerly anticipated having my two grandfathers together, as there was sure to be some raucous storytelling, the occasional expletive, and plenty of laughs. Yet with my two grandfathers, one story always stood out.

Back in the day, driving near or around Gravel Lake, one grandfather apparently cut off the other. A car horn blast by the innocent grandfather was answered by the other with the universal hand gesture. What makes that exchange so funny is that neither man realized who the other party was until later. I don’t recall much more about the exchange, but two things I remember vividly are the absolute delight in my Grandpa Alderson’s voice as he retold and relived the story, and my Grandpa Rzepczynski’s uproarious laughter at being “fingered” as the guilty party.

I think of that terrific story every time I see a photo of the two men together, and in this case, the family story is perhaps even better than the image itself.

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William the Fisherman

As a child, visiting my grandparents in New Buffalo, Michigan was always something my brother and I looked forward to. Upon arrival, we would run straight to the family photo albums and peruse through the new pictures. My grandmother had the charming tendency to photograph every visitor and/or stranger, whether a carpet installer or grand-child, so there were always new photos to be had!

My brother and I would then spend a lot of time in the lower level of the house, away from our parents’ watchful eyes. Downstairs, now that was where the serious fun was – cards, TV, board games, and the like. In that same room were several paintings, including portraits of my grandparents and one of an unknown fisherman holding his catch of the day. As I got older and became more curious, I learned the fisherman was actually my great-grandfather, William Alderson, and the painting was based on a photograph taken at Gravel Lake, near Lawton, Michigan. Here is an image of the painting on the wall.

Painting of William Alderson, photo taken c. 1966

William Alderson was born in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania in July 1894, joined the National Guard in 1917 and later served in France during World War I, and after returning to the United States, married Julia Kamp in November 1919. Their first child – William, my grandfather – was born in 1922 in Pittsburgh, and the family moved to Chicago soon thereafter. William – the fisherman – died in April 1951 and is buried in Bly Cemetery near Marcellus, Michigan, a short drive from Gravel Lake.

The fisherman painting clearly held a place of prominence at my grandparents’ house, and I regret not talking to my grandfather more about it and his family. Rather, his World War II stories were always more enthralling to me as a youngster.

One can imagine my excitement when I stumbled across an actual photograph of “the fisherman” during a visit with my great-aunt – a particularly gratifying find! Here is the actual photo of William Alderson, showing his catch of the day at Gravel Lake, taken c.1940.

William Alderson, c. 1940.

I’m no fisherman, but that’s an impressive catch….