I have the best of intentions to get together with friends and relatives. I really do. At my stage of life, I tend to run into them at funerals and viewings, and we always end the conversation with some variation on, “We must get together.” These exchanges have happened so often that I could have them on tape and skip talking altogether. They remind me of the Harry Chapin line from “Taxi” when he sings, “And she said we must get together, but I knew it’d never be arranged.” This summer I swore that I would try to do better.
Even though there were six girls on my maternal grandmother’s side of the family, there are only a handful of female descendants. For years, my mother has wanted to get together during the summer to share photos and stories. Why summer? Because three of us are teachers, and it would be easier to schedule when we weren’t in the middle of the school year. Now, two of the three teachers are retired, but my mother and I still talked about getting together during the summer.
This summer, I swore I would host a tea party for my mother and her cousins. After a brief consultation on a date, we agreed to get together the week after Independence Day. We sent out invitations, and everyone was available. My mother and I planned a luncheon menu, and on the morning of our event, we had fun setting the table, making floral arrangements, and getting ready. With both of us working together, the time flew, and we were laughing and enjoying ourselves so much that we didn’t feel as if we were working at all.
At noon, the other four people arrived with bags of photo albums. After eating, we started to browse through the pictures and tell stories about our relatives, some that we had heard often, others that were new to me. We noticed how much we looked like our mothers, sisters, cousins, and aunts. We tagged the pictures that we wanted to copy for our own albums. We cried as we remembered those who were gone. Before we knew it, four hours had passed, and no one really wanted to leave.
As we gathered our notes and pictures, we decided that we must get together again. I don’t know if it will happen, but it doesn’t matter. It happened once. We know more about our families and about each other than we knew before we sat down together. We had four magical hours where time stood still, where history caught up to us, where our family, past and present, joined us at the table. We can share the photos and tell these stories to our children, and another generation will carry the torch of family history, today, tomorrow, sometime, and forever.