A few weekends ago, I traveled home to Richmond, Virginia for the wedding celebration of a cousin. My household and I had already attended the actual wedding and reception in Asheville, North Carolina. And it had been a long, busy, frustrating week, so we almost didn’t go. (After all, we’d already been, and this was just a “reception LITE” for local family and friends who couldn’t make it to Asheville.) But recently, many of my friends have begun seeing health issues crop up with their parents: Parkinson’s, dementia, heart attacks, strokes . . . . and the list goes on. My own husband has already lost both his parents and his oldest sister. We used to make trips as often as we could to see them, and now that they’re gone I don’t regret a one of them. And so, with this in mind we rallied on Saturday morning, after a late night catching up with an old friend who was in town, and made the drive to Richmond.
My time with these people is finite.
I was raised on what had originally been my great grandfather’s farm, and I was surrounded by cousins and aunts and uncles who were all still living there on the family property. My grandparents were right next door. Someone recently asked me if I gave parties at my house when I was in high school, while my Dad was away. I had to laugh. I got away with NOTHING. When I was a teenager, my grandfather, whose bedroom window faced mine, could always tell me the following morning what time I got home and who I was with. (He knew all my friends and the cars they drove. My friend Lisa’s red Camaro was particularly easy to spot.) He would go on to tell me how long my reading light stayed on before I went to bed. I asked him when HE slept. “After you go to bed,” he replied, with a hint of a smile.
When I was in elementary school, I was forbidden to walk to an infamous 7-11 a few blocks away. (Our family property had long since had a neighborhood built around it.) I don’t know WHAT nefarious activities went down at this 7-11. I do know it was robbed a few times, but according to my family members there were drugs and “God knows what-all” going on in the woods behind it. One day, when I was ten years old, I was at a friend’s house. She rented a house from my cousins, and lived right down the street from me. We decided to bake a cake for some reason, and her mom (who wasn’t home) was out of eggs. She said, “Well, let’s walk to the 7-11 and get some eggs.” I panicked. I tried to explain that this 7-11 was Satan’s Den, and had all sorts of evil activities going on, in and around it at all times of day. My friend looked at me like I was an alien and said, “I walk there all the time for eggs when we run out. And besides, how will anyone know we’ve been?”
Slurpees. That’s how. Along with the eggs, we couldn’t resist Slurpees. Somehow, I had convinced myself this was a mission of mercy. We WERE out of eggs, after all, and the universe needed this cake to make it feel better, and so we HAD to go to the evil, dark-side 7-11. And get Slurpees. I don’t know what we were thinking, parading back home in full view of anyone who cared to look (and oh, how they cared to look), contentedly sipping our Slurpees. Maybe no one will mind, I thought. We were just getting eggs. Later my Dad said, “You might as well have commissioned a neon sign.”
So of course every cousin, aunt, and grandparent who was home saw me parading down the street with a Slurpee from the forbidden 7-11, and of course they knew I wasn’t supposed to go there because of “God knows what-all”, and of course they told my Dad. And then not only did I have to answer to him, I had to answer to ALL of them. “Why did you go?” “Why didn’t you just borrow eggs from me?” (Why didn’t we think of that?) “Yes, I KNOW Slurpees are really good . . .”
So, while I was growing up, I didn’t think much of this little network of relatives “spying” on my every move. It was only much later that I began to see them as the safety net that they were. When my brother or I or a visiting friend scraped a knee or got our bell bottoms stuck in our bike chains, we always had someone to go to. My aunts and uncles all imbued their sense of morality and respect for others, and their work ethic, into my brother and me every chance they had. And when my parents divorced when I was ten and my brother was eight, they swooped in, and wove that net a little tighter. They pitched in getting my brother and me to and from after-school activities, came to my brother’s track meets and my performances, and continued to make it known they were watching and listening. When I was a teenager and struggling with body image (I am NOT, nor was I ever, nor will I ever BE, petite), my Aunt “Mernie”, who had once worked in the women’s fashions section of a local department store, and whose hair and make-up were always “done up”, told me, “You are beautiful as you are. Never doubt that. Look at your smooth skin. And you tan so easily, dahlin’. (This was when tanning was safe.) And your eyes. And your shape. You are perfect as you are. Walk tall and don’t try to change a thing.” (Also, on her death bed, Mernie threatened to haunt my brother, but that’s another post.)
Mernie and all her siblings are gone now, and the next generation, my father’s generation, is aging. And so I know my time with them is finite, and I want to milk every second of it. I’m glad we made the drive to Richmond that weekend. My father and I spent that Saturday afternoon basking in the warm sun on his back porch, drinking wine, catching up, and discussing the important matters of the world. The missing Malaysian airliner and his theories, what is to be done now with the family property now that there are only four people living on it, his will, and his wishes. His impending retirement. (He’s 70, and has been winding down his business for the last few years.) He doesn’t need to ask my opinion on any of this and he knows it, but he does anyway. He knows my brother and I want a say, even though we say we don’t.
And then we attended the reception and I got to visit with my cousins. The music was loud so we didn’t get to talk very much. But I got to say hello and hug everyone, and my brother and his wife came back to my Dad’s and we chatted around the kitchen table for a good long while. In the morning, my Dad made bacon and I made eggs, and my family and I rushed back home to beat incoming bad weather.
I didn’t rest. I didn’t accomplish anything noteworthy. I didn’t check anything off my infinite To Do list. But that weekend, as an isolated sliver of time, was of the most incredible value.
A Sunday afternoon on the family property, from well before my time. We still did this in my time.