In the 1960s my grandfather helped a young single mother. This act of kindness continues to expand our family to this day. (Names are being withheld to respect the privacy of the living.)
My grandfather, Larry, worked with a young woman who was in midst of a divorce and her family was not from Chicago or anywhere close. There happened to be an apartment available for rent, one floor below my grandparents. He told the woman to move in and his wife, Ida, would watch her daughters while she worked.
The two families became so close that the girls became our cousins. The young woman, our aunt. There was never a question about it as we grew up. The only time this would be explained is when someone asked what the exact relation was between the families.
When one family moved, the other family would follow soon after. Keeping the bonds strong as they continued to grow.
The lady remarried and had another daughter with her new husband. Shortly after, they decided to move back home to Mississippi.
As I grew up, we spent our summers in Mississippi visiting the family. My father would drive us down and return home the next day. We would spend most of the summer there, interacting with the family that became ours and their entire family. Nothing separated our families then.
In 1980 my grandmother, Ida, passed away. I remember sitting on my aunt’s lap and crying at the wake. She truly was an important part of our family. After grandma died, our trips to Mississippi became less. Maybe it is because we were a bit older. Maybe it was because my Dad did not feel he needed to send us or maybe it was because grandma was no longer here to take us. I remember only one trip for the summer after her death. I hate that we separated. The only time we would see them would be for weddings.
It would be many years before we saw them again, I was almost out of high school. But, I was so happy they were visiting us. I returned to Mississippi a few years after that for the youngest daughters wedding. I went with my family (not my father). I spent a week and enjoyed being with them.
My aunt would talk to me about moving there, but I could never imagine living a small town, country life. I grew up in the big city and always felt it was the place for me. Within the past 15 years I visited twice. Both were surprise visits and I am so glad I did this. As my aunt aged, her health was not the best and I always new that one day we would have to say goodbye.
Saying goodbye came way to soon. On Dec. 31st, we found out through Facebook there was a death in the family and a few hours later we confirmed it was the death of our aunt. Without a second thought, my cousin, daughter and myself were in the car headed to Mississippi for the wake and funeral. There was nothing that was going to keep me from going. Not the weather, or the threat of flooded roads. NOTHING.
We did not tell anyone that we would be there. We knew they had so much going on that they did not have to deal with house guests or even worry about us in any capacity. We pulled in to our hotel on Jan 2nd, very early in the morning. Many would be waking up, we were just getting to bed.
We slept for a few hours. After we got up and had some breakfast we headed into their town to do a bit of reminiscing of our childhood. Taking pictures of the places we remembered and marveling in all that has changed.
The wake was to start at 6pm, we wasted time getting a drink and snack so we would not arrive early. We got to the funeral home at 6pm on the dot. It was amazing to see how crowded it was already. We had to wait in line, outside (for a bit), to get in and pay our condolences. I had to tell my uncle who I was, as it had been a bit since we saw him (my past surprise visits were with my aunt only). The youngest daughter knew who I was, but the eldest knew she knew me, but it took her a few to place me. They were so glad we made the trip, and upset we were in a hotel. They asked us to wait around so we could talk, and we did.
Once the wake ended, we headed to my uncle’s home to spend some time together. This time together was precious to me, I know how we look at them, still as family. But, we did not know they felt the same. Being separated for so many years, no real communication (besides a quick Facebook message here and there), there was no guarantee that they would feel that we were still family. Before we even left the funeral home we were asked to please return to the funeral home at the hour the family is supposed to be there so we could say our final goodbye. It was touching, to confirm they felt we were indeed family. They were very adamant that their Mother would want us there. We told them nothing would keep us away.
We got to the funeral early, said our final goodbyes and attended the funeral, and lunch at the church. It was great to see a church community so strong, and coming together to feed the family and friends.
Though this is enough to see the family feels the same as we do, their extended family made us feel the same. My cousin asked her uncle if he knew who we were. His reply was that he knew we belonged to Ida. After talking, my uncle’s brother told us we never have to stay at a hotel, that he has room in his house. All we ever have to do is knock. So sweet. We spent time reminiscing with him, his wife and one of their daughters. It was so nice to do this.
After lunch, we went to my cousins home and spent the balance of the day with her family, including her grandchildren. It was wonderful to get to know her children (as adults), their wives and their children. Not to mention, her sister and her family.
We have talked about making sure we all stay in touch and visit more often. I just hope we all follow through. Spending these last few days together reminded me of how much I miss them.