The contribution

As we pulled out, I waved to my family. My aunt commented that my mom was really crying, and she seemed surprised that it was that hard for her to see me go for two weeks. I hadn’t been away from home for more than a night before that.

I was going to stay with relatives for two weeks and come back to our family reunion with them. It was the summer between 6th and 7th grades. We didn’t have middle school then, so the coming year was the first of junior high. I had kind of been manic in the latter half of the school year, though it would be years before I knew that’s what it was. It was kind of good in that it broke me out of my shell. I was always very shy and quiet. Unfortunately, that returned by fall and lasted for a few more years.

So, we were off, amidst the tears. I realized years later that my mom was crying because she felt so bad about my brother not getting to go too. My aunt had called my mom and made the suggestion.  I guess there wouldn’t have been enough room in their car for everyone on the way back with luggage and all, so only I was going.

It begs the question, why extend the invitation at all if it was only going to be for one? Then I thought maybe my mom should have declined the invitation. I guess she didn’t want us both to miss out. My brother and I were just 14 months apart in age, he the older one, and we did everything together.

My brother was gracious about letting me go. While he was close to our cuz too, he knew that I always had a special bond with him. I’m sure he still felt left out, though. We didn’t get to do a lot of things, or go places, because we didn’t have the money and my parents didn’t get much vacation. I don’t know if they had any paid vacation. My mom was working at a blouse mill and my dad worked at a hardware store.

Once at my cousin’s house, I had a really nice time. It was early in the summer, and the weather was great.  As I said, my cousin and I had a special bond. We only saw each other once a year, but we always picked right up where we left off. They lived in a city, and we went to museums and other fun things.

We also ate out two or three times. Near the end of the trip, my aunt asked me for money for those times we ate out and they had paid for everyone, including me. I was surprised that she was asking for it, but being only 11, I didn’t protest. The problem was, that I had only $13 at the start of the trip, some of which I had spent on a puddle jumper at the Children’s Museum.

My aunt’s response to that information was, “You mean your mother sent you out here with only thirteen dollars?”  Instead of feeling angry at her, I was embarrassed and ashamed. I felt inadequate. I was aware that my family was poorer than most everyone else I knew, but this was kind of a painful reminder. And, she still took the my money. I had wanted to get my brother a souvenir of some kind. My aunt said I could pick something out of a box of items she picked up here and there for our annual Christmas gift exchange via mail.

I selected a fancy plastic ruler with “wood” grain through the middle. I’ll never forget the disappointed look on my brother’s face when I presented it to him.

Well, that was more than three decades ago. (Is that possible?) I must admit I still feel resentment when I think of that incident, but I have forgiven it. I remind myself of her good qualities, which I’ll share with you now. She was fun to be around and had an infectious laugh.

My uncle worked for the post office and he used to joke that she gave him job security, because she sent cards to everyone for birthdays and anniversaries and such. She was very good about that. She kept track of everything. She worked hard selling Tupperware to help support the family. She actually won a sales contest not long before my visit. The prize was the station wagon we rode in.

She also had diabetes for as long as I could remember. She was on dialysis for the last ten years of her life, until heart complications took her too soon. I think she was 72, so she made it pretty long, considering. We all still miss her.

Mental health update

My sister was transported in the wee hours of the morning to a facility an hour and a half away from her home. At least she didn’t have to wait days for it.

I’ll have to drive my elderly parents there to visit on Saturday during the one hour all day that the facility allows visitors.  She’ll probably be there about a week before an insurance company makes the medical decision that she should go home. She will most likely not be ready.

I hope that I make it as a writer so I can help take care of her in the coming years as funding for Medicare and Medicaid is cut down more and more.  It’s scary to think about. It’s enough to think about how my brother and I are going to have time and energy, or be available to help her when our parents are gone.  Hopefully, the services she will need to rely on will still be there. We simply can’t do it all while working full time (with overtime).

I hate to be so negative, but a guy’s gotta vent sometimes. There are good things that come along and make it bearable, and she does have a caseworker who has been helping her to be more independent in the last couple years that she’s had her own place.

I know that I must have faith in God to provide, and I do, but I also believe that God works through His people. We must fight to make things better for all, while we do what we can for our own loved ones.

 

Roots for the future

My recent family reunion reminded me that it’s important to have roots in life. Everyone needs a base, a center, etc. If you’re a Big Bang Theory fan like me, then you can say, like Sheldon, it’s your 0,0,0.

Like many Americans, I don’t know my lineage beyond a few generations.  I know the Ritchey’s who settled the small town my Dad comes from were German, that I have a Scottish grandmother and a bunch of other DNA thrown in, including some Native American.

I’d like to know more of that, but for now, I’ll focus on what I know. My dad was one of eight children, of whom four are left, including my dad, thankfully.  From the time I was 5 or 6, we had our reunion at the same place every year, for a week. Yes, a family reunion that lasted a week. It was because those eight siblings and their families had spread all over the country. It was difficult to time everyone getting there at the same time and wasn’t really worth going that far for a day or weekend. Of course, many only did the weekend but I stayed the whole time almost every year.

I had one cousin, in particular, who was only about 10 months younger with whom I could pick right back up where we left off, after a year, as if we’d just seen each other the day before.

It was important to me to have this, since both of my grandparents on that side had died before I was born. I didn’t have that sense of lineage, or legacy. My maternal grandmother also died before I was born, and my maternal grandfather, the only grandparent I knew, died when I was just four, so I have few memories.

My many aunts and uncles were my only connection to where I came from.  They and my cousins were my reminder that I was part of something bigger, though I only saw them all once a year.

In the last few years, some of us have returned to the old place we had the reunion for so many years, though only for a weekend, not a whole week. There were a lot fewer in attendance this year, but the memories of those gone were shared.

As my dad’s generation fades, I’m so thankful for the time we’ve had and the time remaining. It sure makes you feel how fast the years go by.  I was also reminded that feeling old is, well, relative. Pardon the pun.

As I was talking with a couple of more distant relatives this time, and acquainting/reacquainting ourselves, I remarked that we started having the reunion when I was 5 or 6 years old, and now I’m 46.  They told me I was young yet. I was comforted by that perspective. I do need to work harder on my long term goals, and more urgently. I’ve started doing that over the last year, though. I don’t have time to waste, but I do have time. Time to be a writer, to travel, to meet my soul mate, and grow old together.

As I do all that, I will carry a legacy of a generous, spirited, warm and fun-loving family. I will strive to bring them honor, and to be the man I’m meant to be.