Another Turn Of The Family Circle

Susan Page
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Wednesday - July 08, 2009
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I’ve just returned from a family reunion in West Texas. The last one was 12 years ago, and what’s changed since then, besides there being lots more children, is that the “old folks” are now gone. The parents and aunts and uncles of us 17 cousins have all passed on, leaving the “old folk” mantle draped firmly over our shoulders - ready or not.

It’s sobering to realize that we’re now “our parents,” so to speak. We, who used to be the ones swimming in the river or playing tag, or later on pushing our own toddlers on the rope swing, are now sitting around talking about our surgeries, thyroids and how things used to be. And enjoying it, too!

More than 80 of us were there, though no one seemed to be able to get a head count because of the constant movement of children, toddlers and teens on this big ranch we rented for the weekend. “Have you seen Isaiah? I just saw him with Kyle at the rope swing. Or was he swimming? Maybe Marilyn knows. No, she’s holding the twins. Well, somebody go look for him.”

And so it went.


 

This vast working ranch is abundant with oaks and mesquite (“malnourished” relatives of our kiawe), prickly pear cactus, cows, goats and deer. It has a creek for fishing, a big pool for swimming, a washer “court” set in the dirt, a swing made of a long rope knotted to afix a circular piece of wood for a seat, a spacious ranch house, and huge circular grill that was smoking at all times. The cousins who lived locally made sure we never went without barbecue or beer, family staples.

Some of the more-talented among us made music on guitars and harmonicas. Grandmothers - me included - padded around after our little ones or cooed over the youngest present, 3-month-old twin girls. But with years to catch up on, we older cousins primarily wanted to sit and visit.

It was simply wonderful. Our people traveled from Florida, Wisconsin, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Hawaii, California, Colorado, far flung regions of Texas, and Assisi, Italy, where Cameron, 33, proudly clad in his full blue robe, is a novitiate Franciscan friar. One of his irreverent second generation peer cousins, Kyle, immediately dubbed him Obi-Wan, thrilling the children, who relished having a Star Wars character in their family.

It was hard not to notice that our children, most now married with their own children, are getting impatient with us and our advanced age, though we don’t feel or look old - in our own minds. A forgetful slip-up or name memory lapse is met with rolling eyes and sometimes a joking comment (our family members are carriers of the biting wit gene), thinly veiled as “It’s time to start looking at nursing homes.” I admit being a bit irked at our kids giving us advice on how to do things we’ve done far longer - and sometimes better - than they have, like driving, for example.


I wonder why it stings so much when our adult children try to parent us.

Why can’t we just laugh it off?

Perhaps it’s because still vivid in our memories is the way in which our parents declined - sometimes into dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, sometimes into wheelchairs or painful cancers. Only a few years ago, we, wholly unprepared, became sandwiched between taking care of a parent (sometimes two) and taking care our own children. How can our children understand the fear we have that they’ll end up sandwiched just like we were? Or get how unfunny it feels to be teased about even the early, inevitable signs of aging that ultimately resulted in a mother losing her mind or a dad his mobility?

Amid the great joy of reuniting there in rugged, hot West Texas, where we cousins made so many great memories so long ago, subtle, natural generational complexities and challenges lurked, but not so obviously as to diminish the fun.

Still, upon reflection, I feel a little sad now as I begin to understand how it feels to be of the oldest generation, sad I didn’t show more sensitivity to those now gone.

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