this thanksgiving my grandfather... i believe he's 82 now (forgive me grandpa if i am slightly off) came to mom and dad's with a box full of old slides and a projector that he warned me... could overheat if i wasn't careful... i elected myself projectionist and sifted through the boxes... each of them with hand scrawled labels like "family" "boundary waters" "house" "horseshoe"
there were hundreds of slides... but i found myself previewing them by the faint backlight and skipping over any that didn't include people. how is it that photos of scenery or houses mean so much less 50 years later. i was interested in the images of my dad, my grandma, my uncles. i wanted to see my grandparents in love and my dad doing tricks on his bike. his brothers in goofy pants and football helmets two sizes too small. flippantly, after a few boxes... i said something like 'isn't it funny how people today take photos of the same exact thing they took photos of back then... their family... their car... " my sister pointed out the obvious and said... well, what else is there to take photos of.
my grandma wasn't there. she's in a nursing home and has been for several years. she is in the very advanced stages of alzheimers... but images of her kept flashing on the wall of my mom and dad's house. her lips ruby... her hair... perfect... or the opposite... her hair in curlers on a canoe trip. i could hear her voice in my head... "oh my goodness" if she were there... "how terrible" if she saw her own image... just like she would exclaim to me when she applied lipstick in the rearview mirror of her car... "oh jennifer, never get old" she would say with a heavy sigh...
i kept thinking at the wake and the funeral about how i never really knew him. my mom sent me the link to his obituary and i learned more about him from that than i had known in years. facts i mean. like he was a cook on ships in 2 wars. he traveled for work... extensively and abroad. ... i say facts because i did know him in a sense. i knew his personality. when i think of him now i smile. because he was a joker. many times i can remember him making a joke or saying something and then shooting me a sly glance and a wink... to let me know we were on the same page. he used to call me string bean... because even at 10 i was as tall as i am now. and half my weight probably. i remember one time we were there for an afternoon and he made us a tire swing... just because... there was a barn full of animals and a lake nearby his farm... which made every trip to visit an adventure. at the wake and the funeral i saw photos of him that i'd never seen before. him on ships from his army days... him flexing his muscles for the camera... like some long ago body builder. him as a boy. a person i never really got to know. but... i realized something. i do know him. my mom has 9 brothers and sisters. and believe me when i tell you... they all have personality. if there is something the duffy family has in spades it's personality. charisma... fire! they all have an awesome laugh. i think perhaps because they've had so much practice at laughing. they all know how to dance... they're all a little edgy... and dare i say hot tempered... wild. fun. and not boring AT ALL.
my cousins are both on the varsity basketball team. and at rough estimate at least 12 members of my family were there just to see them play. my grandfather mingled with people in the back row... as he loves to do... and my aunt and uncle sat next to me. the half time show was a fundraiser ... in which you could win a 2 liter of soda if you made a basket from the half court line. the star of the show was a kid of about 7. and for a few moments i thought again... why did i ever leave this little town. there is something very cozy about knowing the people two rows ahead of you... and behind... about having memories 30 years old in a building and knowing there are more memories than that a generation or two before. i dunno. i guess all this family time... this living and dying... watching generations go away and new ones steal the show has made me realize something.
my sister and i are in no big hurry to pro-create... while the rest of my cousins seem to be very good at making families... my dad says, jokingly... but also with a hint of sadness... that we're "just another dead branch on the family tree" ... but if there's anything i have learned from the past month... it's that both sides of my family are thriving. whatever it is that i didn't know about the generation before mine... is alive and well... in this one...
i find similarities between parents and children... grandparents and cousins ... constantly... if i want to get to know my grandfather that passed away... i only need to spend more time with my mom... and my uncles... if i miss my grandmother... i need only spend an hour with my dad's brother or his son... because everything they had... everything they were... lives on still... and such is the beauty of family.