Kaleidoscope by Ken Lahmers, Aurora Advocate editor

Even though we don't live that far apart, some of my relatives on the Spring side of the family don't get to see each other very often.

I'm the only one who lives in Northeast Ohio. All of the other Springs live in Tuscarawas County and the Columbus area.

The last time we were all together was when my mom died in late September 2005. At that time, we vowed to reassemble soon under happier circumstances.

We talked about doing it last summer, but the plans never materialized. Then last month I got an e-mail from my uncle Howard Spring in Columbus saying a gathering was slated for July 7.

The planners decided to have the outing at the family's home church -- St. Peter's Lutheran in Oldtown Valley, south of New Philadelphia.

The weather was perfect -- sunny skies and temperatures in the low 80s -- and 25 people turned out for the occasion.

Missing from the gathering were my grandpa and grandma Spring and my mom and dad, who all are deceased.

The core group now includes my uncles Gerald R., 90, and Howard, 76; my two cousins from Tuscarawas County; and three cousins from the Columbus area.

The next generation are my cousins' offspring, while my oldest cousin has a granddaughter.

My Columbus cousin Chris Spring's son Aaron, who attends Malone College in Canton, brought his girlfriend, who is from Windham.

St. Peter's Lutheran Church is nestled in the Oldtown Valley hills. It's a place I have many fond memories of.

Christmas Eve pageants, caroling through the valley before Christmas, Luther League outings, potluck suppers and youth Sunday school classes are among them.

And there were the vacation Bible school sessions each summer. In fact, a sign outside the church proclaimed VBS dates this year as being July 9 to 13.

For a couple of my college years, I was superintendent of the Sunday school.

Some of the churchgoers I most remember are Jack Ballentine, Luetta Campbell, Marian Keffer, Art Hawk, Linn Mizer, George and Marilyn Keffer, Ray Horn, Len and Art Angel and Anna Mary Angel, who was Len's wife and the church's organist.

A handful of them survive, but are up in years.

St. Peter's is situated beside Jerry Horn's dairy farm. When the field next to the church was used as a pasture, cattle stood along the fence just 12 to 15 feet from the building's kitchen.

This year, Horn has that field planted in corn.

While checking out the church, I noticed one of my former Sunday school classrooms, underneath the stairs to the second-floor sanctuary, is now a storage room.

The church is air-conditioned, and spiffy gold upholstering now adorns the few formerly wooden pews.

The air-conditioning is a vast improvement from years ago when we worshipped with the stained glass windows and a back corner door open on summer Sundays.

The church uses the same electric organ which was there when I was a youth.

At our reunion, lawn chairs were lined up outside along the fellowship hall side of the church, providing partial shade from the baking sun.

The one-story fellowship hall was added to the 100-plus-year-old church approximately 25 years ago.

In the early afternoon, Chris and his brother Phil fired up two gas grills to cook bratwurst, hot dogs and hamburgers. Plenty of pop and bottled water was available.

After the meal, folks enjoyed talking and playing cornhole, volleyball and bocce. A handful trekked to the summit of the church cemetery on a steep hill across the road.

I believe it has been quite a few years since someone has been buried in that cemetery.

Before dispersing, Howard, Phil and I drove 2 miles up the road to look at a stripmining operation behind Jack Ballentine's house, and then to Gerald's farm a mile beyond.

While walking around the barn area, I mentioned the barn will turn 100 years old in 2008. Phil quickly came up with the idea to have a 100th anniversary reunion next summer at the farm.

He thinks it will be neat to smash a champagne bottle against the barn to mark the occasion. I hope we do it and everyone can come.

A family reunion is something that can make some of participants feel really old. That was the case for me.

It seems like only yesterday my grandpa, uncles, dad and I were toiling in the farm's fields when my grandfolks were alive and owned it.

But the truth is we're a lot older, a little fatter and grayer, and Phil and I have lost a lot of hair.

But fortunately this year we're all fairly healthy -- except for my aunt Ruth who suffered a stroke last year -- and we were glad to be together. One never knows how long that will last.

E-mail: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-688-0088 ext. 3155

There's a photo slugged SS focusing in with this if you want it.