Editor's note: This essay was written before the coronavirus pandemic. After a year like 2020, many of us are missing family gatherings more than ever before.
As a youngster I have vivid memories of being around my extended family. It was so meaningful to the older generation to sit around talking and spending time together. Seeing someone's child, the extension of your family, play and run with other family members was a joyful and celebrating occasion. It wasn't really something you had to plan and it just happened instinctively. Everyone is getting together at Aunt Jane's Saturday, bring potato salad. Uncle Fred is frying chicken. Family gatherings took precedence.
The quaint cemetery that lies in the country where my grandparents grew up celebrates each third Sunday in May by decorating the gravesites and visiting with old friends and family. It was so important to my grandparents to be there every single year and it took priority over anything else. Everyone was required to look their best and be on time and be prepared to stay all day. Bring something to drink or a cooler for lunch because it was hot and you weren't leaving anytime soon. Old folks patted each other on the back and shook hands. They caught up on the family gossip and laughed with friends they graduated high school with some 50 years earlier. Colorful flowers were laid atop of headstones, people set on blankets with their picnics and shared memories and watermelon.
Now, if you drive by this same church cemetery on the third Sunday of May, you will see a car or two. The children's children will run by to lay some flowers out, stand there for a minute or two thinking about the past, then get back into their car and go about their day. This is no longer an event, it's an inconvenience and no one can be bothered. The people who cared so much are now resting and we can't take a few hours of our lives to continue this tradition and visit with one another while paying our respects.
Recently our family celebrated my grandmother's 90th birthday. Family from miles away traveled to my small hometown to visit with her, drop off a card and enjoy some food. This was the first time in many years that I saw many of my family members. My aunt continued to remark about how much she misses everyone and how we don't do this enough. But even with this being a milestone event as well as an opportunity to see family, many people did not make it. And to be honest, I was usually the one never there. Having lived hours away from home since I was 21 years old, I have missed more family gatherings than I have made. But this past one made me realize how much I am really missing.
Studying several faces and then realizing who I am looking at while saying hello with open arms is strange. I don't know them anymore. I found myself saying many times to people, "You probably saw on Facebook..." I had little to discuss. They know most about my life, husband and children. It took away from the importance of why we were together. We sat and enjoyed catching up with one another. People who always seemed so young now look old. Several people told me we should have a family reunion soon if only everyone wasn't so busy. But something tells me the people of my grandmother's generation were much busier yet still found time to visit with family. Family meant something back then. People understood the importance of visiting one another, of shaking hands and laughing. People understood that time was fleeting and those you care about most won't be here forever. Family was all you had.
Today we focus on our careers, raising our own kids, getting away when we can. Our extended family isn't the center it once was and if a reunion were to be planned, most wouldn't bother to come. Besides, we keep in touch on social media.
What we miss is the potato salad, the moments of laughter and sudden bursts of excitement when we hug someone we haven't laid eyes on in over 10 years. Sitting next to someone who makes up our childhood memories and remembering their smile from years ago that you haven't seen in person in a really long time. We are missing this. What we don't get that our grandparents did is that although the next get-together is always a year or so away, people aren't commodities and everyone has an expiration date.
I left my grandmother's party with a much better sense of who I am and where I came from. I laughed at jokes I heard (and told) and I got to spend time with people who contributed to who I am today. I had forgotten how good that feels. I had forgotten how much I love them and I was reminded of how much I am loved. That alone deserves more respect than "I will make the next one."
These days are flying by and my hope is that we stop being so focused on our own worlds and instead open the door to a family we have missed and that, by the way, really misses us too.
Photo credit: http://www.familytreemagazine....