I attended the funeral of a ‘black sheep’ cousin two weeks ago. I looked around and it hit me hard that my extended family is getting smaller. When I was a kid, I remember times when we’d host big parties that were attended almost exclusively by family members. They’d all be laughing like hyenas, telling stories and sharing opinions while eating a lot of fantastic food cooked by my Mom. Everyone enjoyed it so much and felt lucky to be a part of it. I guess we were a typical Italian family; we were all pretty close.
In those days, it seemed like people tended to stay geographically closer to each other, too. My parents’ generation had what they called, “The Cousin’s Club”. This group grew up together and caroused together, married, had children, the works. They often even vacationed together (hey, this is starting to sound like “Goodfellas.”) It was pretty amazing to have my grandparents next door, two aunts and two uncles in a two block radius, great aunts and uncles, even a great-grandfather who was local (and grew grapes for his own wine!) Of course, this also meant hot and cold running cousins and various in-laws (and out-laws!) Man, did we have fun.
Here we are years later and we’re all flung in different corners. Some kids couldn’t afford to stay in the kind of neighborhood we lived in. And sure, people got older and more than a few have passed on. Some of the club members’ kids never married, and those that did, didn’t always have children, or fewer of them. The ‘killer blow’ — my parents, who hosted most of those gatherings, moved to Florida when my Dad retired. He’d been saying it for years – “I am NOT going to be shoveling snow after I hit 55!” And of course, New York taxes had always been a sore spot for the old man.
Fact is, my parents are really fun people. As soon as they got down to Florida, they started building a whole new network of friends, Dad jumped into local politics, Mom started teaching a tap dancing class and they both loved the people they met through their new country club. We’d take our families and go to visit them and it would be pretty funny what we’d go through to schedule visits. My parents always have house guests! You had to grab a spot on their calendar and get in there early.
Tomorrow I’m taking a Jet Blue flight to southwest Florida to visit my folks. My sister and I went out for a cup of coffee after the funeral and shared some memories. We both realized that my parents are ‘getting on’ and when she suggested we just grab a flight and go down there, I felt like it was an inspired idea. We considered taking the redeye flight so we could repeat one of our uncle’s old pranks, namely, huddling under the bedroom window at daybreak to sing “Strangers in the Night,” but ultimately decided against it. We’d just be boring and tell them ahead of time so they could come and get us at the airport.
So, even though the Florida house isn’t the home back in Queens I remember with such nostalgia, it is home because when we get there, it’s going to be just the four of us again, our original nuclear family under one roof for the first time in many years. It’s different now in so many ways, sure. This time around, my Mom is not going to take my bedroom door off the hinges (she didn’t like it when I constantly kept my bedroom door locked when I was 14); my Dad won’t come home knocked out from work and charge outside to mow the lawn. My sister and I will not be fighting over the remote control — there’s a flat screen TV in every room of that house.
But here’s the thing — they’re older now. That feels kind of strange and not a little scary. I’m going to hold on to what’s important. We’ll be together. And when we’re together, there’s always love and lots of laughter. I can’t wait to see them both. Yes, you can go home again and I’ll be there tomorrow.