Sunday, July 18, 2010

We Gather Together

I'm going to break from the norm this week because this coming week end is our bi-annual Setzer-Prestwood family reunion. The reunion is always fun and we have a great time. At the same time it is always a little bittersweet because as I look around I see the holes in the crowd left by those who have passed away. This year seems especially poignant, we've lost so many in the past two years. Even knowing that we will walk with them again, we wish they were here.

They are here though. Looking at each other we will catch glimpses of Aunt Tanya's smile on Paige's sweet face while she plays. Or maybe my daddy when Dan's expression changes from quiet observation of the events of the day to knee weakening laughter as the situation unfolds. I look at Patty and see her mom, and Pam is the same. The last time I hugged George, I was reminded of Dennis the list goes on...
They're with us in other ways, too. That rush of peace you get when you quiet yourself and think about them will let you know that, even though they have gone, they are with us, they are happy and they see that we are carrying on. As it should be.

Some of us won't be here today because of economic, physical or geographic limitations. Ernie is at sea and others have business or other constraints keeping them away. It doesn't matter, their hearts will be with us. We're a family. What holds us together is more than shared DNA or legality. Margo will be Aunt Cookie, like Denny was Uncle Denny forever...they are part of us, held to us with bonds of love.

One of the my favorite quotes about family came not from some great philosopher but from an old movie:
"There are all sorts of different families, Katie. Some families have one mommy, some families have one daddy, or two families. And some children live with their uncle or aunt. Some live with their grandparents, and some children live with foster parents. And some live in separate homes, in separate neighborhoods, in different areas of the country - and they may not see each other for days, or weeks, months... even years at a time. But if there's love, dear... those are the ties that bind, and you'll have a family in your heart, forever." Mrs. Doubtfire

Daddy Let Us Drive

I have memories of driving while sitting on my dad's lap. I couldn't tell you the model or year of the car. But I remember standing (yes, STANDING!) on the seat next to him and then slipping into his lap and grabbing onto the steering wheel and driving through the streets of York. His feet might have been controlling the brakes and gas but I had the WHEEL, buddy...I was in control.

When I was 13 or 14 he brought home a little Yamaha motorcycle that my brothers and I shared. Well, the allegation was that we shared. The fact was that when I rode that little Yamaha 90(yea, I hear you snickering!), it was MINE and I was as bad to the bone as any Brando wannabe. We rode on an abandoned World War II airstrip on the Naval Station in Guam. There were broad expanses of black top with no other traffic, the only hazard was the weeds and grass growing up through the cracks. Tearing around that airstrip, full speed with the warm sun in my face and the wind in my hair, I could almost forget that dad and my brothers were waiting for me to finish "my turn". I was rebelling against whatever they had to offer.

One of the blessings of my childhood was that not only did my dad have the ability to determine which "risky" endeavors he could allow us to engage in safely, he had an air about him that dared anyone to try to stop him. So it was natural when grandchildren came along that he would build a fire in the back yard so they could experience roasting hot dogs over an open fire in the middle of Huntsville. It was also natural that each of them in turn would be able to drive one of his vehicles.

Anna drove the pick up from the high school to mom's house when she was barely tall enough to reach the pedals. It was their "secret". Ask her how that made her feel.
Best of all of course was the motorcycle he bought for the boys...and girls. Because he slipped off with my girls a time or two and gave them a turn. Jess did turns around the ball field, grinning like a Cheshire cat. He called me down to the field so I could watch her. As she made her laps, I smiled to myself remembering how it felt to ride.

If anyone asked how I could let him stand my two year old in front of a fire with a hot dog on a stick, alone. Or my nine year old ride a mini motorcycle around a ball field my first response would be, "Look at that man. Why don't YOU try to stop him?" My second response would be, "Look at the man..don't you see he'd throw himself onto the fire before he would let her get hurt?" He knew how important that feeling of accomplishment is to a child and provided ways to give it to all of us.

So now, when I let my child drive the family car down the back roads home, even though she's a few years too young for a permit, I see the smile curling her lips and know what she is feeling. And I thank Daddy for letting me drive.