Monday, November 28, 2016

The hugs and tears tour

The last thing I wanted to do was drive 500 miles to Allentown, Pennsylvania, over the Thanksgiving weekend for a memorial service.

But the service was for my Aunt Bea, who passed away last month at the age of 102. I figured it was the least I could do because she was a really cool aunt. Besides, I thought this would be an opportunity to see some cousins I haven't seen in half a century — if ever.

So we went.

The evening we arrived I called Joann, one of Bea's daughters, to tell her we just pulled in. Our hotel was just 10 minutes away from her place, and she had a standing invitation for us to come to dinner when we got into town. But I hesitated, knowing that she's 82 years old and I didn't want to put her out.

Bea's daughters: (from left) Joann, Mary Lou and Kay.
 That fear ended with the phone call. I expected to hear a feeble voice saying "Huh?" or "What?" every other word, but instead I got on-point conversation sprinkled with hearty chuckles and guffaws.

The same thing happened when we got there. She was flitting about her wonderful kitchen in her 100-plus-year-old Pennsylvania Dutch farmhouse, preparing hors d'oeuvres while her husband, Curt, fixed us drinks. This is what 82 looks like? Helping her out with the pot roast meal was another cousin, Karin, who is an ordained Lutheran or Methodist or Moon Child minister (not quite sure which). Karin, it turns out, babysat me when I was, well, a baby. I had no memory of her. But I won't forget her now. I like a minister who doesn't make me feel like I'm constantly in the presence of a minister. By the same token, it's somewhat comforting to have someone who is ordained hanging around to perform a sacrament of the church, just in case. You just never know.

(From left) Cousins Mary Lou, Joann, Karin, Kay, me, Charmayne and Darcy.
 Anyway, we ended up spending four hours there, reveling in memories and stories, before Kim and I returned to our hotel room.

The next day, we gathered at an historic restaurant for the luncheon/service. About 30 or so family members showed up. Each time I spotted a cousin I hadn't seen in decades, my eyes welled up and my throat clenched and we hugged. There were Kay and Mary Lou, who are Joann's sisters; Karin, who was Aunt Myrtle's daughter; Darcy, who was Uncle Donald's daughter; and Charmayne, who was Uncle Eugene's daughter.

Even Kim was tearing up, and she's not even related to these people.

Then we started meeting some of my cousins' adult children, like Erin and Jody, whose names I remembered hearing from Aunt Bea.

Karin conducted an informal memorial service, we sang a hymn or a facsimile thereof, and we traded several fond memories of Bea.

For a while, I thought the only blood family I had left were my two brothers and their children, but it turns out the maternal family tree is strong and thriving, even if it is somewhat weighted by an overabundance of estrogen. But that's OK, too. I think it's why the tree is thriving.

Turns out, 500 miles is nothing. Not when family is calling.

No comments:

Post a Comment