Sometimes the road before you takes you back instead of forward.
Last Saturday, Papa and I awakened early in our empty nest. We crawled out of bed at o-dark thirty (as my once-an-Army-man husband says) to shower, get dressed, and grab a quick breakfast.
Actually it was 5 am and we planned to leave our house around 6:30 because we had a three+ hour long trip to take to attend a morning gathering in a town over 175 miles away from ours.
One of the last surviving aunts on my husband’s mother’s side of the family passed away last week at the age of 87. We decided to attend her memorial service, not only to pay our respects for her and her family, but also because we knew it would be a family reunion of sorts.
We would have the opportunity to visit with my husband’s cousins who we haven’t seen in 20 years. Some of them live close by the town so far from ours, but some of them reside even farther away in other states, even on the West Coast. Papa’s older brother, a Texan now for over 30 years, was flying in for the service as well and we looked forward to seeing him.
We traveled by highway eastward as the sun arose and once we crossed the mountains, crystal blue skies and sunshine greeted us making our drive very pleasant.
Once we arrived at our destination, the air still nipped at us with a bite of chilliness but the greetings from family warmed us with smiles and hugs.
Reconnecting with cousins and my husband’s brother truly was a joy. We shared updates about grown children and cell phone photos of grandchildren.
We listened to stories of days gone by and memories of childhoods when that side of my husband’s family would all gather together at their “cottage” at a church campground and spend summer vacations together on the Jersey shore.
Quite some time ago, I tackled the plethora of old photos that had belonged to my in-laws. I managed my way through them all, deciding which ones we wanted to keep and placed them into photo albums.
But there were so many old photos of aunts and uncles and older cousins as youngsters that we decided should be given to those family members who were still alive. Since Papa knew the family histories better than I did, he sorted those by families, bundled them up, and inserted them into large envelopes.
They traveled with us on our journey and as we all gathered at a lovely restaurant for lunch, Papa passed the envelopes out. Smiles spread on all those faces as they viewed those photos from yesteryear and passed them around for others to see. Gracious thanks rained over us like blessings.
As the time ended and we all dispersed, Papa and I hugged everyone goodbye with promises of coming back in late summer for a family reunion. His brother had some time to kill before heading back to the airport, so we stayed and visited with him before we gave more hugs goodbye.
But before we left to travel back home, we meandered around this quaint town where so many of my husband’s relatives had lived. We drove past their former homes and Papa recalled many fond childhood memories.
We wandered down country roads and found the church campground where so much family history took place and marveled that the “cottage” the family once owned still stood.
The roads that led us to this wonderful time of family took us back – back to the days when families weren’t so spread apart by distance, back to a simpler time, back to childhood memories, and reminisces of those who are no longer among us.
Our day was a bit bittersweet. As we headed back westward to our home, I thought about the fact that we are now becoming the older generation of this family.
And how it saddens me to know that our children – all young adults and some reaching middle age now – will not have this experience of reconnecting with this side of the family. Yes, they are second or third cousins or however you classify the offspring of first cousins, but they don’t really know one another because distance separates us all.
Family stories and histories will probably become lost in time. Unless some of us try to preserve them. That’s what this day of traveling back showed me.
Sometimes we need to let the road before us take us back.
“So much of who we are is where we have been.” ~ William Langewiesche