Sunday, January 08, 2006
I Never Thought I'd be the Elder
Sunday, January 8, 2006 New York City
Last night, I was the oldest by far in a room of twenty or so. And they were all my children, nephews, grandchildren ... well,you get the picture. It was my grandneice, Nora's 5th birthday. And my other grandneice, Hannah's 3rd birthday. The fathers of both these girls are my brother's children. Maybe a little bit more than you wanted to know. ( I promise not to cart out the family tree but if you're interested go to Rootsweb.com --it's fascinating. )
At any rate, Brian my nephew, age 35ish, emailed me an invitation while I was still in the Caribbean. "Everyone will be there, even Billy". That was an added draw since Billy lives in St Louis, and he and his family aren't often here for these gatherings with his other siblings who live in New York.
I had lots to do in Pennsylvania at my country home, but really wanted to be there for Nora and to see Billy and his family.
I arrived on AMTRAK 15 minutes before the party began, so I didn't have a present or even a card. I arrived at their apartment near mine on the west side and even before I got to the door, I knew it was the right place--there were two strollers parked next to the door like miniCoopers.
If I had any doubts about showing up because of the chores at the house ( sump pump misfiring, clutch out on the Miata, hot water heater not heating, kitchen sink clogged ) it was dispelled when my nephew's wife opened the door with a big hug for me.
"I've read you blog. I had never read one before", she said. What a compliment from this Ivy educated lawyer who has always been respectful of me and my work.
I greeted my sons and their wives and girlfriends respectively. My grandson was way too occupied with the other six children under five to give me more than brief acknowledgement. There were cocktails, mostly beer, and hor d'oevres, then dinner ( a wonderful Italian meal thanks to Fat Eddy's or something like that. This guy gets raviioli ).
Before the cakes for the girls, I talked to all of them. I have been Aunt Mary for a long time, 35 years actually, but last night I really felt like "her". I was surrounded by two generations that came after me. And when my youngest nephew, BJ, asked me about my father, I was moved at his interest in a man he never knew, a man I only knew until I was 19.
I told the story about Christmas during WWII when my father, arriving later than expected by my mother on Christmas Eve, had draped himself in garlands of evergreen. He had been at the Elks Club, undoubtedly toasting his fellow Elks with the homemade eggnog they were famous for.
Christmases were lean during the war, and my parents had two small children, so money was probably tight. But my mother wanted a fireplace--even though it was out of the question since they lived in an apartment. As my father twisted the garlands away from his body, he smiled at my mother and said: "So, here you are Mildred, I've got your goddamned fireplace". He walked out into the hallway and dragged in a red corrugated fireplace that he had gotten from one of the merchants in town. The fireplace was sturdy enough to look real and even had strobe lights that rotated around red and yellow cellophane so that it looked like a real burning fire.
What I didn't bank on, as I told BJ about the story, was that all the little children would hear me telling it--especially the "goddamned" part. My nephew, Brian, the father of the 5 year old quietly cleared his throat. When I looked over at the children sitting like soldiers at the table waiting for ice cream, I realized that every one of their heads had turned to hear my profanity. I smiled at him and apologized. But it wasn't really my profanity but my father's, and it was just accurate storytelling.
I wonder if the children will remember the story or just that Aunt Mary said bad words? I don't know. I do know that legacies are passed on by storytelling. And whichever story those little children remember, it will be the right one because it will be about that moment, that intersection, when the elders and the youngest touch. I'm glad I went to New York today. The sink will drain, the car will repair, the heater will warm up. But I believe there are opportunities that don't happen again. I think yesterday was one of them.