I know, I know. Today is Saturday. But on Thursday, I posted this photo to Facebook...
Throwback Thursday is a thing, and I had recently rifled through some old photos, taking photos of photos for just this purpose. This was the first one I posted, and I got quite a kick out of tagging my cousins and watching them "react" to this photo from 1973.
"Is that Tony in the cool shades?" (It is!)
"and Bill not cooperating with where Aunt Marianna told him to stand" (yep)
"Love the smile sis" (ohhh, a little sibling "love" perhaps?)
Even people who weren't there commented, like my daughter, when I pointed out my eye patch. She had one too, when she was little, but according to her, "I was way cooler" (she was)
But my Aunt Mickey's comment, "what a wonderful motley crew that was...those were the days !!!" I think her comment was my favorite!
Those WERE the days. I was one of eight cousins on my mom's side of the family. (There are only 7 in the picture, you say? Check out my mom's dress...it is maternity-wear...my sister is in there!) Between them, my mom and her two sisters delighted their parents with 8 grandchildren, and we eight cousins were together every holiday and many a Sunday afternoon when we were small. Through the years, one of the sisters moved far away, and it was difficult to not see those cousins regularly, but Teresa and I wrote letters...I had the address memorized...and there were still family holidays with all of us some years.
In this picture, it is Easter. We always lined up for Grandpa Joe to take our picture outside on Easter, even if it was cold...even if it was really cold! There are no winter coats in this photo, so I assume it was only moderately cold as we lined up on Easter in 1973. In this picture, there are 3 distracted cousins, 2 children cheesin' for the camera, one toddler looking in the right direction, a defiant young man and a pregnant middle sister (due in August with grandchild #8)...just trying to get these 7 cousins to cooperate!
Not in this picture are two grandparents, one with a camera, probably laughing and maybe scowling a bit and pointing, "Just stand right there." I remember that there was more than one shot each time. You never knew what you were going to get in the age before digital photography, so you'd better take 2, and make sure to re-focus and take your time in between. Kids should know how to stand still, right? Grandma was maybe standing next to Grandpa Joe as he took that photo, smiling... Or maybe she was inside, stirring the spaghetti or reheating the coffee. It was a holiday, after all!
Not in this picture are the other two sisters, Aunt Chris and Aunt Mickey. They are probably in the very small kitchen with Grandma, working to get that holiday meal on the table. I don't remember what the dinner included that year for Easter, but I am sure that the oven and every burner on the stove were involved in its preparation. I am also sure that there was at least a little "loud talking" and much laughter in that kitchen, as the women bumped into each other while putting on the finishing touches and moving everything to that big dining room table.
Not in this picture are 3 uncles, Uncle Chip (my dad), Uncle Lou and Uncle Bill. If they were not trying to "sample" the dinner items already on the table (and getting a slap and a scowl from Grandma), they were likely watching TV and maybe having a cigarette in the living room. Back in the day, that was ok...even inside the house. Smoking was cool, good for you even...it was before we really understood and knew better. It was before we knew better about fat and sugar and cholesterol, and holiday meals were guilt-free!
You can't go back, but those were the days, indeed.
These days, Grandpa, Grandma and Uncle Chip are gone. Just yesterday, Uncle Lou joined them. Aunt Chris is the sister who moved away when we were young. She, Uncle Lou, Teresa and Tony moved to St. Louis, and that's been their family's home base for decades. It's been years since I have seen Uncle Lou, but (thanks to social media) there have been photos, and his smiling eyes in the pictures from their 50th wedding anniversary last November are the same eyes that smiled at me every time I saw them.
This is the Uncle who would enter a room full of cousins, dig deep into the pocket of his trousers with a sly grin and say, "Are you ready?" We would gather around the closest table, eyes wide with anticipation, and he would remove his hand from that pocket and toss a large handful of change on the table for just a few seconds before covering up the pile of coins and scooping it off the table. Then it was time for each of us to guess how much money was in his hand.
One of the older cousins usually guessed closest, and the prize was that handful of glorious, jingling money! It was a fun game, even when you didn't win, and it was the first thing I thought of when I heard that he had passed on Friday morning, but it is not my only memory. His smile. A bear hug. The way he listened, looking right into my eyes when I told him anything. The jokes, oh the jokes! When I let Sweetie know that Uncle Lou had passed, his response included, "He was always such a joyful guy," because he was.
I spent yesterday afternoon texting with my cousins, Teresa and Tony, and I also messaged my Aunt. I know that their next few days, weeks, months will be full of missing Lou and figuring out how to go on without him. Losing a loved one is a trial that we all face eventually, and there is one thing I have learned through the years...those loved ones make you who you are. The good, the bad, and even the things you strive to do differently than your parents did...your family shapes you, right down to your core. When you lose a part of that family, you also lose a part of yourself.
The only thing to do is to miss him and remember all the good. Write it down so that you can pass it on, and tell your children about their grandparents, and great-grandparents, and all the happy times you can remember. Share the funny and the tragic, laugh and cry as you celebrate the life that helped to shape yours. Aunt Chris, Teresa, Tony, Ricky, Zach, Cameron, Saffron, and all the extended St. Louis family - I miss him, too...but not like you do. Hold on to one another, and remember that smile!
Friends, thanks for stopping by. Love your family the best that you know how to love, and do that today. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow. And even though we all walk through the valley of the shadow of death eventually, the Lord is your Shepherd and mine. Look to him for comfort. (Psalm 23)
And you knitters out there? Knit in Good Health.