And so begins spending time with Dad’s side of the family. Friday night we are at my aunt Lenore’s house for dinner. Two of my cousins, her sons, Ron and Joe are there with their wives, Maria and Stacy along with Ron and Maria’s daughter Amber. Dad’s side of the family knows how to entertain. The moment you walk in you are offered a cocktail. Yes, please. I spot a bottle of Beringer White Zin. (Did they take notes from the last time I was here?) I had been informed that happy hour would precede dinner. It’s already seven o’clock, but there was a rosary being said earlier at the nearby church for a neighbor who had passed away.
We have such a good time. I love my cousins and always wished I’d grown up closer to where they live. In childhood I only ever got to see them during our summer visits. I ask Amber if she got the Wagner sarcastic gene. I tell them I’ve recently read that there is scientific evidence that sarcastic people are more creative and intelligent. “Then how do you explain my dad?” quips Amber. I threaten Ron that on my next visit I’m going to follow him around for a day as he goes about his farming duties. He is on board with that. I would really like to. I have this story idea, you see, about a farmer…
I drink a lot of wine. Possibly the entire bottle. Finally I get a decent night’s sleep, but what a headache when I wake up. I cure that with water, coffee, a walk in the cold morning air and Advil. Today we will visit Mom one last time and then go on to my cousin Janet’s for lunch.
I ask Mom if she remembers how much she used to like to sing. She says yes, but…now I just sing to myself. I say we could sing Christmas carols. She says she’ll sing if we start. I rack my empty brain for even one Christmas carol I know the words to and come up with Jingle Bells. So we all sing. I applaud at the end. Melonie starts right in with Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. We sing it all the way through, our voices filling up the empty lunchroom. At the end Mom claps her hands.
She was in her place at the table when we arrived at 10:30 and says she’s hungry even though she must have eaten breakfast only an hour and a half ago. Steve fills up her water container and brings her a Chips Ahoy cookie. He divvies up the cookies from the package into sandwich bags and leaves a few for her each time he visits. Otherwise she will eat them all.
When we get ready to leave Mom seems sad. But I know thirty seconds after we’re gone she won’t remember that we were even there.
Janet always generously organizes a gathering for any of her family who are available to meet up when we are there. It is always a fun time. I used to feel a little guilty that Janet went to so much trouble for my visits, but she told me she enjoys it. She loves getting family together and she loves getting pictures of everyone. My last visit was extra special. It was the first time in two years her parents had been to her house.
Last year I remember thinking how each time I visit Missouri, I wonder who in my extended family won’t be there the next time I go. One year it was my brother. The next, an uncle. Then another uncle. This time it is both of Janet’s parents, my aunt Rosemary and uncle Bill.
What Janet’s perspective taught me was that my visits give us all the opportunity to make memories. If someone wants to fuss over you, let them. That big wedding or birthday party you’re hesitating to plan? I say go for it. Invite the people that are special to you. Take lots of pictures. It might be the last time you ever see them.