If you don’t have a big family of your own to enjoy, the next best thing is to try to blend into someone else’s. When I was a child I had a big family – I only had one sibling, but my father was one of six children and each of them had between two and six children, so I grew up with many cousins. We had weddings, Baptisms, First Holy Communions, Christmas eves at Grandma and Grandpa’s house; in the summer there were family reunions, picnics at Hinckley Lake; we knew our first cousins and the children of our Grandmother’s sisters.
Then came the funerals – which were like reunions as well, though sadly with one permanent farewell.
The pressures of day to day survival and raising children get in the way of paying attention to the details and suddenly it seemed the family had shrunk considerably. The hustle and bustle of a normal Sunday afternoon at a grandparents’ home was reduced to a college graduation party until all the youngsters finished school or a Christmas gathering in December for all who could come.
A few of the far flung relatives re-convene once a year or so and the rest of us come out of the woodwork to lap up the benefits of these meetings – we compare old memories of how we each did the same thing. We all remember walking up to the corner of Velma and Pearl Roads, in Parma, cutting through the empty field on the corner and going into Bender’s store to get a loaf of bread or a quart of milk for Grandma. Maybe she just wanted fifteen or twenty minutes without the little varmints underfoot, or maybe she really wanted what she sent us for. I particularly remember the morning glories along the path going diagonally across the field. Uncle Bob had a story about making the trip on his bicycle.
Usually we talk and eat, of course, late into the night with our old stories. Our eyes are trying to close, but none are willing to be the first to head up the stairs to our appointed rooms, breaking the spell. Finally the host and hostess can hold up no longer and we all wish each other a good sleep.
There aren’t many children anymore, few weddings, Baptisms, First Holy Communions, and the subsequent parties following these occasions.
A young lady I worked with in the late 1990s that I’ve kept in touch with though she left the area several years ago, got me invited to her baby shower last autumn – a beautiful little girl was born to my friend and her husband and when I asked when they might be in town she said they would be coming for the baby’s Baptism. I met some of her friends and some of her family at the baby shower. This afternoon I drove out to St. Vincent de Paul Church on Lorain Road for the Baptism. The church is a wonderful old building with all the statues and stained glass windows that tell me I am in a Catholic church. I walked around with my camera getting a few shots of the baby and saying hi to a few of the family members I remembered who also seemed to remember me.
After the ceremony we went to the home of one of her Aunts where we had an assortment of appetizers and drinks followed by a meal of breaded chicken, ham, potato salad and green salad topped with strawberries. I found a seat at the dining room table and then just joined in the conversations and enjoyed the laughter. In no time I learned that my friend’s mother-in-law had recently gone to Slovakia to try to follow up on some family history – her mother was from Kosice, the same town my mother’s mother is from.
By the time I got back into my car and headed home I felt like I had participated in a happy family gathering. Not my family, but certainly a family that opened its arms graciously to me. I will long remember the warmth and friendship they shared with me.