Monday, February 20, 2012

Gathering together

Yesterday our family calendar included two scheduled events. At noon, we drove an hour and a quarter south to Acushnet to attend a birthday party for my husband’s grandmother, who was turning 89. Late in the afternoon, we headed back home to prepare for a dinner gathering with my parents and my 14-year-old niece who was visiting from Pennsylvania for the weekend.

Long after the last dinner dish was washed and our guests had gone home, I stood outside in the chilly winter air thinking about the two gatherings. At the first one, we visited with my husband’s sister and brother-in-law, aunts and uncles, cousins, grandmother. We ate ice cream and birthday cake. We talked about movies, upcoming vacations, the younger cousins’ college courses, home improvement plans, jobs, the vagaries of estate planning.

At the second one, we talked about school administration issues and kayaking and the many, many different ideas my niece has for how to spend a gap year she may eventually decide to take before college. (She’s only a freshman in high school, but she’s familiar with the gap year concept because her sister did this a year ago.)

But what I found myself thinking about was how they were similar, and how much of the day we had spent sitting around tables with our family members, enjoying conversation and food, sharing ideas and memories and plans and hopes, happy to see relatives whom we normally don’t see enough. My husband’s relatives mostly live an hour or so away, and we tend to see them at large gatherings at holidays. This was a relatively small gathering by their standards – about 16 people rather than the typical 30 or so – and it was good to be able to talk with everyone there. I made a salad, expecting it to be lost in the crush of an enormous spread of food, but in fact it was the only salad, and the other guests were remarkably complimentary of it, which meant a lot to me. Dinner with my parents and my niece featured a simple menu – homemade macaroni and cheese, plus steamed broccoli, and gingerbread with whipped cream for dessert – but it was wonderful to just spend time around the table and talk as we ate.

Family gatherings can be a mixed bag, but both of yesterday’s events reminded me of how rewarding these moments can be at their best. It’s just good to spend time together, to connect, to host and be hosted. Celebrating another birthday with an 89-year-old has so much meaning for us; it’s remarkable to me that Rick still has a living grandparent at all, and that she’s happy and healthy enough to attend her own birthday party makes it all the more significant. Welcoming a visiting 14-year-old niece feels equally important: we see her just a few times a year, and it’s always good to find out what’s new with her in terms of interests, hobbies, academic passions, plans for the near future.

Having both get-togethers in the same day reminded me of how connected we are in so many different direction to relatives of all ages and all branches of our family tree. We’re lucky to have this, and we’re lucky to have days like yesterday, days dedicated to immersion in family events.

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