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Nathan Kitzmann column: Death in family brings family, memories together

The Kitzmann side of my family recently experienced a loss in the form of my great-uncle Richard, who died at the age of 80.

He happened to be my grandpa Kitzmann's brother, and one of my dad's favorite uncles. People loved Uncle Rich for his great sense of humor, love of life and family and community, and his strong faith in God.

The funeral was held last week in southern Minnesota, a good half-day's drive from where I reside. I had already been planning to spend the week at my Kitzmann grandparents' house, so I was able to attend the funeral with them.

Ironically, almost a year previous to his funeral, the Kitzmann family had hosted a very well attended birthday for Uncle Rich's 80th. It was a huge celebration, and even included a one-man polka band, if that tells you anything. That had been our last family reunion in which the entire family was present. Little did we know that we'd be having another one so soon.

I had never been to a funeral before, so the experience was a new one for me. It caused me to reflect on family relationships and what it means to have a life well lived.

I arrived at the church early Tuesday morning, knowing that there would be a great deal of people present. After all, Richard had six brothers (one who had preceded him in death) and a sister, and many of them have children of their own. My grandpa has four children, and one of them, my dad, has four children also.

All of this rapid multiplying, as you can probably imagine, makes for a lot, and I mean a lot, of Kitzmanns. Richard was also very involved in church and his community. My suspicions were correct. The people poured into the foyer in droves, and from there clustered into small groups. The conversation, for the most part, was friendly, but also tinged with melancholy due to the intrinsically sorrowful nature of a funeral.

One particular phenomenon that I noticed throughout the day was that Richard's surviving siblings, including my grandfather, spent a good deal of their time talking and being with each other. They are, and always have been, known for being quite close.

Growing up during the Great Depression in a parsonage located in Elmore, Minn., my grandpa and his family had little but each other. Their father was a Lutheran minister, and, due to his small salary, was often given household services or food for payment.

All of the children had jobs as soon as they were able, which varied wildly and went from delivering newspapers to working in a butcher shop. My grandpa has the scars to prove that one. Keeping themselves busy with sports, books, work, the occasional madcap prank, and -- I can only imagine -- terrorizing their sister to no end, the siblings were not bored nearly as often as children seem to be these days.

They eventually all grew up and left home, but always remained very close to one another through the years, sharing in each other's joys and bearing each other's burdens. All of the siblings have been blessed with long lives, and there wasn't a death among them until Delbert, the eldest who died in 1999 at the age of 76.

It is true that my father also had several siblings, but I figured that my grandpa's situation is a better example of the ideal sibling relationship. Because, you see, my dad's most vivid "good memories" with his siblings usually involved some kind of bodily injury.

For example, he recalls a particular incident in which his oldest brother, Kent, lined my dad and Warren (who is between my dad and Kent in age) against a barn door, pants down, and shot them on the buttocks with his BB gun, savoring every yelp and squeal they uttered when he happened to hit his targets.

Why my dad ever agreed to that arrangement, I will never know. I'm sure he wonders the same thing. I only wish that my brothers were that blindly faithful to me. We'd have ourselves some real good times.

Now that they are adults, there isn't as much torture going on when they get together. And like my grandpa and his siblings, they love to relive their youthful days together.

If you think about it, your relationship with your siblings is the longest of your life -- including your parents, your spouse or your own children. I hope that, like Grandpa Kitzmann, I'll be fortunate enough to have my brothers for many years. I also hope that I will see all of my brothers become successful and productive people, just like my grandpa, and that someday we will be able to enjoy sharing the stories of our lives with one another.

Nathan Kitzmann will be a sophomore next school year.