My host is my Uncle Russ, who is the youngest child of my grandmother, the woman who raised me from the time I was a year old. Uncle Russ is really more of my generation than that of his older siblings, but until this past year I saw him only as uncle and placed him in a category apart from me. However, I have discovered how much alike he and I are, and his wife Mary Lou, only months older than me, has many of my same interests and philosophies of life as well. I can see spending more time with them in the coming years, getting to know them both in a way I never considered before.
It was the visit with my Uncle Chuck and Aunt Donna, as well as with my close-in-age cousin Kellie that set my mind into memory overload. Although their family and mine lived 3,000 miles apart for the better part of our growing up years their family holds a significant place in my heart and memories. It was the hours spent pouring over the photo albums that Aunt Donna has so carefully preserved that makes me remember how intertwined our families are.
I often feel as though I am orphaned, not only from the parents who died when I was a baby, but also from the aunts, uncles, and cousins I left behind as I ventured out into my life and away from familial connections close at hand.
It was the pictures that took me back in time; pictures I had never seen before, some I had, and all of them taking me to the places I have only recalled in my dreams and vague recollections. In the pictures I was once again in my grandmother’s home surrounded by family whose faces from that era are so familiar to me. There were pictures of aunts and uncles from their childhoods, before I was born. Imagine! These people who disciplined me, guided me, and who I placed on the highest of pedestals were themselves once children who answered to their own elders.
It was looking up from those black and whites, those color-faded Polaroids and at the lined faces of my aunt and uncle topped with white and silver hair that made me so utterly aware that time is moving forward. As my cousin Kellie and I reminisced, both of us with our own faint etchings of lines and wisps of grey in our hair, that I realized soon it will be our children and grandchildren glancing up at us and understanding that mortality is very real.
So many that smiled in those long ago photos are gone: my mother, Uncle Arnie, Grandma Oberlander, Kitty, Aunt Rose, Grandma Siepp, Aunt “Tuffy” Helen, my sister-in-law Sharon, Grandma and Grandpa Wleklenski, Aunt Irene and Uncle Roy. As I hugged my uncle, kissing him on the cheek that is wrapped in an oxygen cord, I felt such a pang of regret that this could possibly be the last time I get to see him. It’s that thought that prevents me from a sound sleep tonight.
It is my generation that is moving into the slots vacated by my elders, those who taught me so many of the things in life I take for granted. I happily forgo sleep this night as I am spending some quality time with family, those that are gone from this earth now and those that are still here, unknowingly the recipients of my thoughts and blessings.
The next generation........