As we approach the driveway of the only house I have known them to live in in my 50 years, the years begin to roll back. It's a nice, inviting, impeccably maintained, sturdy brick home which is completely symbolic of the family it has sheltered all these years. By the time Patricia and I are getting out of the car, the front door of the house has opened to reveal my aunt anxious to welcome us in. Lena, my aunt, is as unchanged as her home. Standing in the doorway with her perfectly coiffed hair and wearing her perfectly ironed apron it's hard to remember that it is 2010.
When the door to that house opens love spills out to the street.
We hug and kiss and step inside and it is 1968 and I am 9 years old and I see ghosts everywhere. Not actual scary ghosts but more like the Ghost of Christmas Present from A Christmas Carol. I feel my father everywhere. I can picture long-gone family members sitting in the same furniture that we have captured in treasured photographs. Almost nothing has changed except for the addition of pictures of children, grand children and great grandchildren so proudly displayed everywhere. Even the aroma of whatever delights my aunt has cooking in the kitchen is still the same.
Then we see my uncle, across the room, beaming and patiently awaiting his turn for hugs and kisses. He is more frail than last time we saw him and his hearing is nearly gone but that has not changed his demeanor. In the 40 years since my father passed away it is always slightly unsettling to see or talk to my uncle Eddie at first because of the powerful resemblance he and my father bore. I was hugging Ed but I could not help thinking that this is what my father would look like today. He has welled up with tears. I can only imagine the rush of memories that he is experiencing. My aunt tells us that he has been counting down the minutes to our arrival.
How often in our lives are we fortunate enough to be made to feel so welcomed and loved?
Now the front door is opening to reveal one of my cousins and her husband. We have not seen each other in 20 years. There are more hugs and kisses and smiles and tears and now she too is 20 years old again. We all settle in around the dining room table for wonderful food and immeasurable reminiscing. Sitting there with this branch of the family it is impossible not to regret the infrequency of our visits.
Periodically my cousin would lean in and ask her father if he was able to follow the conversation and each time he would simply beam and say "I have my family here and that's all I need".
As warm, cheerful and dignified as this family is it would be easy to think what charmed and easy lives they must have lead. The truth is that life has presented horrible and seemingly unbearable tragedies and in true testament to their strength and love, they have risen above them. There are so many lessons to be learned from my family. Love is power and family is strength.
As a bonus from our visit I was given an envelope of photographs of my father, his brothers and his mother that I had never seen before. I was given another tiny glimpse into the personality of my father as a young man. I see that playfulness certainly is a family characteristic.
We left as we had arrived, in a flurry of hugs and kisses and tears. There were more tears as we were leaving than arriving. There is no doubt that we were all having the same thoughts and wondering how many more of these wonderful visits there will be. We promised not to let another two years pass and certainly not to let another twenty in between visits with my cousin.
.....I think this is a good time to email my cousin and set a firm date for her and her husband to come to my house for dinner. Check back for the menu and recipes from that special event!