August 9 – Sunspots shone on dozens of people on Sunday gathered in a cemetery atop Catoctin Mountain – accessible only to those with a four-wheeled vehicle, golf cart, or willingness to climb a rocky trail quarter mile through the woods.
As far back as Tim Bussard can remember, he has made an annual trip here, to the historic property of his ancestors. Each year in October, he joined a handful of relatives in cleaning up the family cemetery, a small patch of earth covered with earth surrounded by towering pines and populated mostly by old, unmarked stones.
But Sunday, nearly 100 Bussars were there by his side.
It was the 100th annual family reunion. Depending on who you asked, it could have been the 101st. No matter how many, Tim said, he was happy to be there.
“It’s really cool to carry on this tradition,” he said. “I hope it will last another 100 years.”
For 99 years, dozens of people had gathered in Middletown on the second Sunday in August for the Bussard family reunion. As the 100th year approached, those responsible for planning the annual event got excited: they wanted to “do everything possible,” Tim said, to mark the occasion in a very special way.
Then a global pandemic struck. The Bussards settled in for a series of small gatherings among immediate families, and they shared photos with each other instead of hugs and plates of food.
Despite a 12 month delay, Sunday was indeed very special for Bussard and his clan. Instead of a park in Middletown, the family gathered at Stoney Lick Farm in Thurmont, where the first American Bussars made their home in the 1760s.
Standing in the shade of a century-old cabin, Tim Bussard easily told the story of his family. He spoke about Sophia and Daniel, who fled the Alsace-Lorraine region in France as children on the same boat and later fell in love. He spoke of their son, Peter, who died in 1802 when he was hit on the head by a mule.
“We know Daniel is buried up there,” Tim said, pointing to the mountain. Pierre is too. “There are probably about 20 other stones up there in the cemetery, but we don’t know who they are.”
The pride of the Bussards in the traditions surrounding their family reunion is evident. There is a president – it’s Tim – plus a vice president, secretary and treasurer for the event. Officers are elected at a family reunion each year.
They are having raffles and auctioning off heirlooms, photos, books and baskets of homemade goodies to raise money for next year’s rally.
About 40 years ago, Clara Szczechura said, someone knitted a baby blanket for the auction – three simple black, blue and yellow stripes. The following year someone brought the blanket back and auctioned it off again. And even.
Eventually, the Bussards adopted the blanket as their family flag. It was in a triangular display case on Sunday, ready to be sold again. The highest bidder can post it at home until the following year’s meeting.
The flag is the most sought-after auction item each year, said Tim Bussard. Its colors were painted on banners and hung across the property, under which sat nieces, nephews, uncles, cousins and more.
Szczechura has been the secretary of the meeting since 2014, she said. She clutched binders and notebooks as she ate her dessert, diligently preparing to record the minutes of the next family reunion. A few feet away, at the designated check-in table, visitors flipped through old newspaper clippings with stories featuring loved ones and noted which seven of Peter’s sons they were descended from on a map.
When August rolls around each year, Szczechura can’t wait to see extended family members that she might not otherwise be able to keep up with.
While Szczechura organized his notes, the children scattered around the property, playing in a moon bounce that the Bussars had rented or circling around the nearby pond.
18-year-old Tristen Bussard and her cousin Alyson – just a year after her – stayed side by side all afternoon. They laughed at their fathers, played with Alyson’s new puppy, and laughed as they climbed the steep path to the cemetery, telling tales of four-wheeler rides up and down the mountain.
Outside his door, they had carved their names in a tree.
“I hope we can involve the younger generation to continue,” Szczechura said.
Follow Jillian Atelsek on Twitter: @jillian_atelsek.