For 26 years, my family has gathered in Charleston, S.C., for a Christmastime gathering. The event began as an opportunity to see my brother's new home following the devastation of Hurricane Hugo. His 19th century home had recovered from the wind and rain of that storm, but many fine old mansions wore scaffolding and broken pieces. Still, the city's charm shown through, and we made the simple gathering an annual event.
It was not a simple trip. For me, a five-hour drive at least, and it was the same length for my brother in Jacksonville, Fla., and his family. My sister in Charlotte had a shorter drive, and our parents could ride with her family.
Over the years, the little children we first took to Charleston grew up and added their own little children to the mix of guests. Our parents died, leaving empty spaces at the table and in our hearts, but the tradition continued. Then my sister-in-law died, then my brother and, three years ago, my sister. Often over the three-day weekend, I expected to see them turn a corner or call my name, but reality set in.
Nevertheless, we gathered again this year, my daughters and four of our grandchildren, my surviving brother and his children and grandchildren, a cousin and her husband, my brother's sister-in-law and the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of my deceased brother. Despite this continuity, some members of the family have dropped out, and we couldn't help but wonder how long this tradition would continue. We'd like to think could continue another 25 years, but that seems unlikely. The four siblings who initially gathered are down to two. Our children and grandchildren will never share the same memories and same influences we had.
My childhood Christmases were spent at my maternal grandparents' farmhouse, surrounded by 10 aunts and uncles and eight first cousins. I wanted to share that experience with my children, so I dragged them to that Christmas gathering for more than a dozen years. That farmhouse, and my aunt's mill village home that replaced it, did not have the charm of Charleston. My aunts grew too old to host those Christmases, and the tradition died. Inevitably, our Charleston trips will end, but until then, we will enjoy this beautiful city that has been proclaimed the top tourist city in the country.