Thanksgiving is more than just a family gathering for Edna Brunkhorst.
It is a family reunion, one that she’s attended “since times immemorial.”
For the 89-year-old Waverly resident, it is a tradition going back to when she married her husband, the late Dr. John Brunkhorst, on June 20, 1959.
Since then, Thanksgiving has been a staple in Edna’s life and a moment in time when she reflect on her blessings.
The big event, which always draws family to the original Brunkhorst farmstead, south of Lamont, had been hosted for years by Edna’s in-laws, Joe and Mae Brunkhorst.
As their seven kids — John, Joe, Philip, Mary Jo, Marlene, Patricia and Monica — grew up and had their own families, and eventually, the third generation of Brunkhorsts added their own kids, the plates around the Thanksgiving table at the farm multiplied proportionately as well.
After Joe and Mae passed, their son, Philip, and his wife, Ann, took on the duties of hosting the Brunkhorst clan since they live on the farm and the tradition kept going with a fourth generation of Brunkhorsts adding their energy to the holiday gathering.
A gifted decorator, Ann even has special tablecloths and centerpieces for the occasion.
On Thursday, about 100 Brunkhorsts from Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska and Texas are expected to attend the family event.
It will be a return to normalcy, of sorts, because last year’s Thanksgiving was canceled due to the pandemic.
In keeping with the Thursday tradition, this year Edna will prepare scalloped corn using her mother-in-law Mae’s recipe. She will also make candied squash with pecans and brown sugar rather than the usual sweet potatoes, as her son, Bob, Waverly’s former mayor, had produced a “wagon” full of squash.
The past year has been a trying one for Edna. She has been adjusting to the loss of her husband of 60-plus years, Dr. John Brunkhorst, who passed away on March 3, 2020. A beloved family physician, as a young man he had served in the United States Air Force before moving to Waverly to establish his own practice.
Dubbed “the plat book doctor” for knowing exactly where his rural patients lived, Dr. B, as he was affectionately referred to, also loved to spend time at the family farm in Buchanan County, where he grew up. He especially relished getting his hands dirty working the land of his ancestors, so on the weekends he would often be doing just that on the farm.
In 2019, at the last Brunkhorst Thanksgiving Dr. B attended, he was honored for his military service with a Quilt of Honor made by his sister, Marlene, and his niece and goddaughter Mary.
At the gathering, which boasted about 120 family members, the mother-and-daughter quilters handed out 20 quilts to family members, some veterans and some boys who had won their Eagle Scout badges.
On this Thursday in 2021, the family will gather again at the hall in Aurora, which the Brunkhorsts have rented for about a decade.
After the lunch, the men will go trap shooting in the fields, some of the kids will go to the gym across the street, which the Brunkhorsts also rent. Meanwhile, the women will chat at the dining hall and watch some of the younger kids play.
Around 4 p.m., when the men return from the fields and the kids have drained their batteries at the gym, there will be a second round of food sharing, Edna said.
She added that kielbasa, the Polish sausage delicacy, is one of the dishes she enjoys sampling.
This meal will be the first time that the turkeys will be catered, but the rest of the menu will be a variety of sides and desserts brought in by family members.
As much as she would miss her husband and her oldest son, Geoff, who passed away in 2019, Edna will take a moment to contemplate her blessings.
A deeply religious woman, she will find comfort in being surrounded by family members she has not seen since the pandemic and in spending some special time in the presence of her immediate family in the area, Bob and Kris Brunkhorst and their kids, Karalynn and Zach.
She will also be especially grateful for the fact that Karalynn, a surgery nurse who has been on the front lines since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, had survived a collision on Nov. 5 unscathed, as she was returning from work on that early morning.
Among Thursday’s highlights is also a plan to honor Edna, who will turn 90 on Jan. 7, and two other women, her sister-in-law Patricia and her first cousin, Lorraine, for reaching the venerable nonagenarian status.
“This is a big family reunion,” Edna said. “The biggest and the only one for the year unless there’s a wedding in between.
“Nobody leaves hungry.”