Time manifests itself in many ways. We see it in the clock on the wall. We see it the rise of the sun, and in the change of the seasons. But no where is its manifestation more pronounced than in how we age. We grow taller. We gain wrinkles. We grow hair in places that we never expected to grow hair. At times, it can make us feel rather desperate and alone, but then we look around at those that we’ve known for significant parts of our lives, and we see that we are not alone. Our friends, too, grow and change. But perhaps the best part about aging is how it affects the memory. Given enough time, things that seemed incredibly important in the moment have lost their significance. Arguments are forgotten, and friendships are renewed.
One of the most profound places where this happens is within our own families. If you’re like me, then you probably don’t like most family functions. Family reunions, weddings…all that stuff is to be avoided as obnoxious uncles come up to you, spill their drinks on your shirt, and ask over and over again what you’re up to now. It’s even worse when you’re a person like me, and never cared for social gatherings to begin with. Now that I’m an adult and, for the most part, mature, I tend to avoid these functions. When I get another invitation to a cousin’s wedding, I automatically RSVP in the negative. I just try to save myself the misery. But this one was different.
It was my grandfather’s 90th birthday party. Turning 90 is huge on any day of the week, but when it’s your grandfather, well, you’ve got to be there for the old guy, mainly because you’re not sure if he’ll be around for 91. I was planning on going, long before my Dad started organizing the party and making sure all of his kids got the invitation…long before the old aunts started calling here to confirm plans and guilting me about how they missed me at the last few weddings…and long before my Dad decided that, because of my extensive radio training, I’d be the best guy to emcee the event. This was one family gathering I was making an exception for.
My Mom, Dad, and I showed up at the Legion Hall around noon to start getting things set up for 1:30. A few of the old aunts were already there setting things up and were just so glad to see me again. Of course, I was the only grandchild who was there because I am the only one still living at home. I looked around at the Legion Hall and started having flashbacks to the last time I was there.
It was 10 years ago, for Grandpa’s 80th birthday party. The family was still reeling from the unexpected death of Grandma and still feeling a strong desire to be together. I had just finished high school and was going through that “kitchen period” that follows: leftover angst still simmering on the backburner, and a pot of confusion about to boil over. There were talks about cancelling Grandpa’s 80th birthday, but we decided to soldier on. After all, it’s what Grandma would have wanted.
Throughout my teen years, I embraced my angst. All these family gatherings seemed designed to highlight my loneliness. I was the only one who wasn’t dragging along a girlfriend and taking off about halfway through to take advantage of the parents being out of the house. I was the only one who would refuse a beer when offered to me; a decided act of rebellion back in those days. But something struck me as being odd about this gathering. It was kind of like a sixth sense was hinting that this would be the last family event where the whole family attended.
A few cousins weren’t able to drag their girlfriends along. I had only about one or two cousins who were fellow nerds, so before long, there were quite a few of us. We decided to take off for the arcade down the street to spend some quarters and while away the afternoon. We wound up missing Grandpa’s cake because of it. But, all things considered, I’d still rather have been home with a good book.
I came back to the present, and Grandpa’s 90th birthday. The hall was all set up now, and we started waiting for people to arrive. It wasn’t too long before all the cousins started showing up. This time, though, it wasn’t their girlfriends that they were dragging, but their wives. The apologized for being late, but they had trouble getting the kids ready.
Among my cousins, I am one of the last. There’s only about 4 of us, including myself, that aren’t married yet and producing families of our own. A lot of my cousins now boast having two or three kids. They weren’t here for Grandpa’s birthday, but Great Grandpa’s birthday. It wasn’t too long ago that these gatherings were filled with lots of people named “Dad.” But now, there’s twice the number of people named “Dad,” and lots named “Grandpa.”
I looked around the room at how the family had increased in size over the past decade. Cousins came up to me, shook my hand, and asked how I was doing now. I sheepishly admitted that I was still living in the basement. But there were no jokes. Instead, just understanding. We both expressed amazement at how much we’ve changed over the years and that we should do this more often.
All that leftover teen angst that seemed to hang over these proceedings was now gone. We were all more relaxed and more sociable. Maybe fatherhood had matured my cousins. Maybe that simmering teen angst had finally boiled off. Maybe it was just nostalgia, and seeing a forgotten cousin brought up the good times of even earlier family events when we’d be playing outside. Granted, not all things had changed. There were a few cousins who were snobs when I was 8 years old and they’re still snobs now. Perhaps they think I’m also a snob. But, come what may, there was a genuine feeling in the room that we had all mellowed in our older ages.
Grandpa’s party came to an end, but we in the family were still having a big banquet just for us. With time to kill before supper, a few cousins took their kids down to a nearby playground to burn off some energy. I went too, just out of a need for something to do. I sat by the picnic table as the gathering of second-cousins scrambled onto the playground and organized a game of tag. We talked about jobs, careers, and the next child on the way. There was no doubt about it. We had become the parents, and the next generation that really didn’t want to go to family gatherings was now in the playground, building a stock of good memories before the angst sets in.
I look back now and I have difficulty seeing why I had so much trouble with these things in the past. Some may have drifted too far away to ever come back, and with others it’s easy to renew the friendship. I walked away from the party a little more mature myself, and finally realizing that time really does heal all wounds. The best way time manifests itself is by granted us the ability to let go. I’m almost sad that I’ve already RSVP-ed in the negative to the next cousin’s wedding, which is next month. I occasionally wonder if any cousins will come to mine. But then, I have to agree with my mother. Turn out to my wedding will be gigantic, because people will be overwhelmed with the curiosity to see who I finally wound up with. All I need now is time.