We are not what I would consider kissin’ cousins. In fact, at the mention of family gatherings, I often grimace and forgo the pleasure.
Part of the reason has to do with my parents’ feelings transferred to me, that were intensified by my own anti-social attitude. So perhaps to rationalize, I have not attempted to keep in touch with most of my clan, adopting my parents’ resentment.
My father used to scorn those gatherings where the family was present. I recall my once favourite uncle’s wedding. My mother had purchased in Buffalo the most beautiful deep green velvet dress. She looked truly lovely; in my mind’s eye, the puffy sleeves and full skirt combined both high fashion and the look of a princess. Silly me in my fuzzy pink number had decided to fix my curly bangs and continued to savagely trim them to my hairline so those furry squirming buglike protrudents suggested a monk’s fringe with no framing wisps of hair to soften what was referred to as an intelligent forehead.
On that wedding day, my father was moving particularly slowly and seemed to be digging in his heels as my mother was growing more and more frustrated. There was some interchange between them and she was in tears. In their bedroom was a huge mirror to match their bedroom set and I could see from the small hallway, her crying, her eyes now reddened; the day ruined.
Likely my father had cause to want to avoid the family, but more than anything he had taken the day and spoiled it for her. After all, this was the family whose monthly “Kousins Klub” never gave any thought to the fact that a man on crutches might need a parking spot close to the host’s house. Never complaining openly, they would venture perilously through the high drifts of snow and ice to reach the Saturday night location.
His avoidance of family events was freely absorbed by me. He was no fan of most of the get- togethers with his own family, either ,although he eagerly anticipated time spent with his brother-in-law Sid from Windsor, yet the meetings were hardly familial. They focused on technology and music: the passion of both technologically-oriented men.
I see them in my mind’s eye, sitting together, heads inclined, laughing easily, talking privately. It seemed to me that Sid always had a new scheme, an idea, an adventure that captivated my father’s intellect. I imagine this jovial friendly side as a kind of boys’ club attitude, maybe what the old days were about, the endless rounds of good pals and gatherings before polio robbed my father of so much of himself.
And before all the friends fled, fearful of catching the virus.
In a word, Sid and Saul were friends, so much more than family. And If Sid were around, there was no need to call my father more than twice, my mother announcing” Saul, Sid’s here!” Meetings with Sid were so unlike the palpable resistance of attending the family parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs that bored him : no draw for my father. So I admit I embraced my father’s aversion to these assemblies, shying away from these people.
When I heard that the Rotman family was planning a reunion I was less than thrilled, hoping in fact not to have to attend. But my husband insisted, even strong arming the children to come and bring their children. In fairness, I actually do quite enjoy the presence of Howard’s cousins from Texas and Chicago who always, at their own expense and long distance had made it to our own celebrations in Toronto.
Howard’s mother was the youngest of seven brothers and sisters. In this group were the children of Ida, the black beehived, smoking sister from Buffalo. Imagine Marge from the Simpson with a husky voice and a cigarette always in her fingers, knitting needles at her side. She was a character but unlike my mother-in-law, on the day I was introduced to Ida, she looked me up and down and in her very American accent loudly proclaimed, “I like you Patty.” I warmed to her immediately. Her children as well were interesting people, amiable, friendly and accessible.
Old grievances die hard and even so many years later, the children of the dead brothers, Max and Nathan, were not in attendance at the Rotman reunion. ( In deed, they might have been purposely left off the invite list!) From my early entry into this family, I had always overheard gossip regarding the contentious one-legged Stella – who once berated my own mother when my mother-in-law’s wedding guest selection had not met Stella’s approval ( in fairness to the sharp-tongued Stella, my mother-in-law cherry-picked who she chose to invite in every family grouping); and the haughty Rosa who had remarried too soon after her husband died at an early age was often the topic of conversation. The legendary Max had assumed hero status as a well known community figure in Hamilton with athletic centers named for him. I’d been introduced to some of their offspring somewhere who remained a blur in my memory, their names Sylvia, Stewie, Debbie….
Howard contributed to the stories of his family as a happy, loving group and I had in my head the narratives of when the cousins were young and they were all babbling buds. Most strongly were his descriptions of the huts along Love Canal where this family congregated every holiday weekend year after year. Where dead fish washed up on the shore and lumps of greying tar matter rose up through sizzling sands under snaky hydro wires, sparkling in the hot sun; where the kids danced and played and cavorted avoiding the debris littered on the beach. My husband reminisces fondly about other trips to hear Michael Tilson Thomas ‘s symphony and the zoo in Buffalo where Ida lived, and her handsome dashing aviator husband. He revelled in the time spent with his cousins.
So he was looking forward to reuniting with his cousins, Marcia and Michael and Susan and Michael, and their children from the States.
As most things in life, there is nothing is without flaw, no perfection anywhere. Sadly my mother-in-law, the world’s favourite aunt would not be able to grace the reunion. Ironically 30 minutes away at Shalom Village, she was blithely unaware that the clan was even gathering. Her last home would be this care facility where she once volunteered. With dementia destroying her mind, she would not be present. There was no attempt to bring her to the party, for we worried that she might be confused, disoriented and frustrated, even angry at the people she once cherished.This would have been too much for her.
Yet her 91 year old twin attended, and in full command of her facilities, introducing her family table, she exchanged more pleasantries with us than she had ever done throughout her life. My mother-in-law even a year earlier would have shone, been the queen of the day, well loved by her nieces and nephews. The healthy twin ,obviously having had enough, announced, “Time to go. My sister ( my mother-in-law) was the party girl!”
I have to admit: it was fun. With close to 70 people, many we had not seen in years, it was an astounding. So many relations in one spot with their children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren in attendance. The feeling was not uncomfortable. It was an easy meet, people milling around, stopping to chat, introducing new additions or reacquainting. And always snippets of years gone by where forever memories had been established, laughter spilling forth at the foibles of youthful adventures or incredulity at now sepia coloured adventures shared as youth.
Sadly, as I rewrite and edit this 8 months later, my mother-in-law and one of the Michael cousins have died, passed to that nether world along with the dreams and memories that entwine our everyday existence: comings and goings, meetings and dissolutions.