Every year, at our family reunion, one more seat of memories and laughter is empty. Another chair is taken away as the dance continues.
In my family, we are in the season of passing-one generation slowly slips away as another emerges. Those of us in the middle, realizing in horror that we are becoming our parents, meet this season with intruding moments of grief thrust against our overwhelming distractions.
Busy with children and career, and approaching midlife with more uncertainty than we thought possible, we find this precisely the wrong time to lose the ones who could provide us the greatest security. The last barriers between us and the raw edges of life crumble. Yet for those of us fortunate enough to have aging parents, this generational rhythm is fitting and natural, if not comfortable or welcome.
As this year's reunion of the Harrison clan approached (my mother was one of 12 children), my brother was ambivalent about attending. Pressures from work, the cost of travel and lodging, and traveling a distance with kids all stacked on the ledger of skipping the "event" this year.
I had only one counterpoint on that same ledger: What if this were the last year Aunt Millie would be there?
My mother's family produced some "great ladies" in the deepest antebellum tradition. Aunt Millie is one, my mother is another. Though raised in coal mining communities during the Depression, these women carry a dignity that defies the loss of husbands, fortunes, children, and dreams.
Throughout the 1940s and '50s, Aunt Millie was the classic American "glamour girl." There was no room that would not brighten upon her arrival. Now with the passing of decades, mixed with the griefs of life and battles with cancer, the beauty has faded. Years of smoking have made the lyrical song of her voice husky. Yet the room still brightens in her presence.