The church hall was full of well-wishers.
How many of them, I wondered, would have ever thought my uncle would be celebrating his eightieth birthday today. Not many, I’m guessing. Yet, here he stands defying the odds — how many years later?… and how many times?… from what many believed would be his deathbed.
Yet, even today, in the midst of this birthday party, I understand my uncle isn’t feeling well. But to look at him smiling and his eyes twinkling and his arms reaching out for one long hug after another, no one would ever guess what was going on underneath.
I think this is how it is with folks of my uncle’s generation; — it was the same with my parents — they keep their troubles to themselves. They realize that there is a time and place for everything and today was not a time for sharing pain. Instead, today was all about joy — a time to remember and honor a life still being lived.
Propped against the tables were old photos — I’d forgotten than my aunt and uncle were once in a bowling league in the sixties. How young they looked then, Bob barely thirty and JoAnn not yet thirty. These two have been part of my life from the beginning, of course — and though I remember them in the 1960’s, I don’t remember them looking like this.
What I do remember is that I always thought my aunt and uncle were rich; and in a way, they were rich, when compared to my family. They always seem to drive a new car every couple of years, they went on long vacations to neat places like Yellowstone, and they lived in a house that had central air conditioning — all things that were not part of my family’s everyday life.
They were the first in our family to get color television — at a time when not all shows were broadcast in color — and often, they would invite us to come out to their house to watch television. Shows like A Charlie Brown Christmas, or The Wizard of Oz — which I didn’t know was bursting with color until I experienced it at Aunt Jo and Uncle Bob’s house.
And while I now know that my aunt and uncle weren’t rich, at least in the way that I once imagined, I see that they were rich, and still are rich, in ways that matter more than money. Just like the color television set they shared with their poorer relations, my aunt and uncle colored my world with all sorts of nice memories, some centered around the holidays while others just made the everyday more special.
To recount these memories shrinks their importance, makes them seem so little when they were not. How can I convey my excitement when my aunt stopped by our house to chat with my mother on her way home from work? Or when my aunt and uncle picked up my brother and I to take us to the movies with my cousins — where we saw movies like Bye, Bye, Birdie and Summer Magic?
They just showed up in my life. And today, I just showed up in theirs.
I wonder if it was part of a different time. We had the “rich” relatives, too, but they shared with everyone, and never made anyone feel lesser for not having the things they had.
I do think the depression generation was better as a whole at sharing, though. We were the first family in several blocks to get a television, and there always were people coming over to watch. As I recall, Sunday evenings often were potlucks – folks would bring covered dishes and then we’d sit around and watch – whatever. I remember Hallmark Hall of Fame, and Walt Disney, and of course Murrow. And in the beginning? All on an 8″ screen!
My first thought was….”We’ve come a long way baby!” And the second — “From what and to where?” We may have our bigger television screens, but surely we have less people gathered around them.
Yes, my aunt and uncle are, and have always been, generous souls — with their stuff, but more importantly, with themselves. I know my mother’s family grew up really poor in the way of money — and, of course, I grew up in a house where ends sometimes didn’t quite meet too — but I never felt poor and I imagine my mother’s family felt the same.
And for those who are really poor — I’m thinking of Haiti now — and also the rich young ruler who was challenged by Jesus to give everything he had to the poor and to come follow Him — when the two come together, everyone feels richer. Perhaps this describes the feeling around your 8″ screen on Sunday nights.
It wa a great day for Bob. They turnout was more than expected. Believe it or not we almost ran out of food. We did empty many containers. (Maybe a first for our family. Christi and I were absoluterly exhauseted last night. It was a good time for all. Today is Granddad’s birthday,. He would be 104. Love you Jane
I thought yesterday was Granddad’s birthday …
I hope you and Christi have been able to relax today. I’m getting read to go relax myself — after cooking all afternoon , I’m going to take in a few Super Bowl commercials.
Love you too.