My brother-in-law Hal came to visit after attending his 50th high school reunion event in New Jersey. Now retired in Norfolk, he helped track down people for over a year and organize the event. A 3-tour Viet Nam Vet with 25 years in the Navy, he’s seen a lot, and family and friends are very important to him.
My wife and her family have always been close. She and her cousins started an annual reunion event a few decades ago that continues on, and the next generation (all the cousin’s children and now grand children) are included in that event. Attendees vary based on time of year and who is where in this nuclear family age. But it happens, each year, every year.
My cousin-in-law “Buzz”, now retired, started doing a family tree on the parental side of my wife’s family. My brother-in-law took up the challenge and is doing the MATERNAL side of it. Of course, my wife Dee has cases (not boxes, CASES) of family pictures, notes and documents. So his stopover had a mission in mind, as well.
The day after Hal arrived here, the kitchen was full of CASES and about 20 million pictures he and my wife Dee were sorting through. At first I thought it humorous to watch, but as I heard their expressed awe and reminiscences going back six plus decades, stories told as if they reflected yesterday’s events, I felt a bid saddened that my paternal-side family mostly dropped out of contact after my father’s death from a heart attack, 50 years ago this November 17. I am still in contact with my maternal cousins and surviving aunt and uncle. Not as often as I’d like, but life DOES have a way of getting in the way of other plans.
As Dee and Hal went through the pictures and documents they had assembled, I heard them reminisce about growing up, family events, times at the beach, and many other events. At times there as laughter, and some times, a touch of sadness in the conversation. Theirs was a tight family, all neighbors, more or less, in Bayonne, New Jersey while my family was scattered from Massachusetts to Ohio to Florida to Israel.
A touch of sadness came over me since I had only a few pictures from one event in my life, and several pictures of my son when he was two and three. (Ye, I have current pictures.) Memories of my family events, came back, and I smiled at the memories of my grandmother’s kitchen full of people playing poker for matchsticks and beans, as one example, and how family members always seemed to lose to the matriarch of the family. Other events — happy and sad — came back, and I felt a sense of loss of my family connections.
Hal had asked me for information about my family tree to include in his work, and I told him what little I remembered. That deepened and widened the crevasse between then and now for me.
The next morning, the kitchen was put somewhat back in order — at least maybe two million photos (or so it seemed) had been either put in envelopes for family distribution or returned to their boxes and cases. But there was a stack of photo envelopes set aside, and atop them was a plastic sleeve with a slim book and a note the read “As ye seek, so shall ye find.”
It was my baby book, and chronicled my first few years. My grandparents and their parents were identified, names of family friends long forgotten but still in my life until I graduated college were there, and the chronicle of my first stand-up, walking, words, and other child achievements was documented.
In the other envelopes were pictures of pieces of my life over the last 50+ years, snippets that when threaded together brought back fond and sad memories of my life. Where they came from was a mystery — even my wife could not recall gathering them up from “wherever.” Most likely, they were in some box that got consolidated with others over the years, and left unremembered until recently re-found.
Gabriel D Odonkor