We are back from a three-day weekend at Beech Mountain with our three children, their spouses and our six grandchildren. It was a wonderful, relaxing time as we talked into the night with the adults and watched the children play together excitedly.
The experience made me think back to my own childhood when I was the age of those grandchildren, and my mother's five siblings and their children would gather every Sunday afternoon at my maternal grandparents' rural home. They were close, literally and figuratively. All but one of the siblings lived within 10 miles of the textile mill village where they all grew up and some still worked. The one distant sister was only 50 miles away. It's harder now for us to gather our children from more distant locales.
The comforting joy I felt at seeing all my children and grandchildren together made me wonder: When was the last time my parents had all their children together at once?
It must have been in 1961, when my oldest brother arrived by interstate bus from the Air Force base where he'd been posted and spent several days at home. A year later, our sister died at 17 in a car crash, and our parents would never see all of their five children together again. We survivors grew families of our own and gathered periodically at family reunions, when all could make the trip from our widely dispersed locations, or at Christmas, when, a few times, our parents packed three families into their modest farmhouse. They crammed 10 or 12 or 13 people into a house of no more than 1,200 square feet, some sleeping on the floor, because Christmas was when our parents wanted everyone to be together.
That family never gathered at resort locations — never at the beach or the mountains — but at the little house where we'd all grown up or at some church fellowship hall with ties to a family member. In the big reunions, where all my mother's or my father's siblings and their families would gather, there were no opportunities to gather quietly over morning coffee or an evening nightcap and talk and talk.
All the things my parents missed out on saddens me, knowing they loved their children and grandchildren as much as we love ours. But theirs was a different era, and their lives were broken by tragedies and great burdens. Still, I know they would have loved to have spent a long weekend surrounded by five children and 11 grandchildren (plus any my older sister might have added, had she lived longer).
I smile for my parents the smile they would have smiled if they had only experienced the joy we experienced last weekend, far from home and surrounded by generations who share our genes.