OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND
There have been many times in my life when my default mode has been “Out of sight, out of mind.”
When I transferred from public school to boarding school the beginning of 7th grade, it didn’t occur to me to let any of my classmates know, except my best friend Pete, who was two years ahead of me in school.
When I moved to take my first appointment as a pastor, moving from just three miles above the Maryland Line, to just about 25 minutes below the New York border, our immediate family knew about our move, and I had changed our address with the post office and other such places.
It it had not occurred to me to send my contact information to family who had become emotionally distant. In both sides of my family, there are levels or generations of cousins. The only cousin I had been close to as a teen, I had not seen or heard from in years. Even though we had some good memories of our youth and teen age years, the contacts seemed to fade into thin air.
As far as I know, there were no Marcellino family reunions. In my mother’s side of the family, reunions were weddings, funerals or religious celebrations involving one of the nuns or priests in the family.
Even in my husband’s family, the impetus to gather in reunions seemed to die off with the oldest generation and their children. Each year, the annual reunions were attended by fewer people and lasted fewer hours.
I did not send my address to a high school reunion committee, because I was not in touch with any classmates. It may have been difficult for them to keep up with my/our moves anyway. It is no wonder that they assumed that I was no longer among the living.
All of which to say, when I found out I could return to my hometown, Onset, Massachusetts for an entire week, it was without any expectation of visits, except for visits to the beach, visits to the canal, visits to the site of my former homes.
I was grateful for this opportunity and wanted to make the most of every minute. When we had visited in 2018, I had gotten a hotel about 25 minutes out of town. This time, I wanted to be much closer.
The trip felt like an extravagant gesture to begin with, I wanted to be cautious on the dollar side. I was willing to stay in a hotel, although there were a few reasons why I preferred some place with a kitchen.
I did want to eat out, preferably a few seafood dinners. But that also meant doing breakfast and lunch on the cheap and not fast food. Once the possibility of spending a week in Onset looked like it could happen, I began to search for a place to stay.
I had been offered a beach house at an amazingly generous rate; but it was twice as much as my conscience would allow. Then a friend suggested that I try Airbnb, and that proved to be my best bet. It was the perfect combination of price and proximity.
I suppose that was my first unexpected blessing, finding the right place at the right price for the time I needed.
Once I had finally settled on a place to stay and had reservations, I could turn my attention to preparing in earnest for this adventure. My dad had never talked very much about his family. I knew some details.
As I was getting ready for the trip, I realized that I did not know or remember what my father’s birth order was, or when and where my grandparents had met and married.
My grandmother was born and raised in Lisbon, Portugal and came to the United States sometime in the late 1800’s, or not later than 1901. It would have been interesting to hear the story from her, what it was like to travel alone on a boat from Lisbon, Portugal to Fall River, Massachusetts. But I never asked, and not unlike my father, she did not talk about it.
Now and then she would talk about “the Old Country.” But not about herself or her life.
So, I called my brother to ask these questions. He is very knowledgeable about family stories, because he has done the research. He had really invested time and probably funds, in Ancestry.com and other searches.
But when he would talk about these things, I tried to listen attentively, but I confess my eyes glazed over now and then. I feel awful saying that, but it is true.
He would talk about people I had never heard of; John, Jake, some relatives I knew about and remembered, others, not so much. This time, when I called, he said, ‘You should really talk to your cousin Gina. She lives in Mashpee, on the Cape!
My response was articulate. I think I said, “My what, who, where?” “Cousin Gina, Uncle John’s granddaughter.” he replied. “Uncle who?” was the best I could muster.
I wanted to reach out, and I did, but it took me a while to figure out how? I could not figure out how I could tell them that I did not know their Grandfather, or their father existed. It felt rude! Simply put, Uncle John died before I was born, and with a father who did not tell stories about his family or life, I had no idea.
They were not offended, and were as happy as I was to discover new family. When I gave them my travel dates, we made plans to meet.
As it turned out, they were also in touch with other granddaughters of some of my dad’s sisters. Just before arriving in Onset, when we had set our meeting place, they told me another cousin would be joining us.
The more, the merrier. More people I did not know existed! Although I had vague recollections of their grandmothers. Then one of the “new” to me cousins was bringing her sister, and they were in touch with other cousins from another aunt.
Our gathering, which I described in another post, was a long leisurely lunch, that spilled over into an amazing day. We walked all over the cemetery where my parents and grandparents (their great-grandparents) were buried, searching for their graves.
I took them to see the site where our grandparents’/great-grandparents’ home was and the two homes where I grew up. We hugged, laughed, cried. I cried a lot. There is a Bible quote from Jeremiah about mourning, “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears! (Jeremiah 9:1). That day, that was me. The tears came unbidden, but so did the joy.
In the company of my cousins, I felt a balm for my soul, that filled in the empty places that I hadn’t realized were there. I had family of my own. This was a blessing I could not have anticipated.
Although my in-laws (both sets) had been welcoming enough, after my mother died, I felt like an orphan. I felt as though I did not have family, beyond my children and husband, and of course my brother. In that one day, in the presence of these women who had been strangers, but were at once family, I felt like something had been restored.
Just before leaving town from our 2 day visit in 2018, I came across the contact information for a high school classmate. We talked for a long time. She told me that our 50th class reunion was scheduled for 10 days later.
I was tempted to get home to Pennsylvania, and turn around and go back, but really, that was a first conversation with her in 10 years. With no contact with anyone else in the class in almost 50 years, it would not have been totally genuine on my part. I had only been part of this class for the last two years.
Nevertheless, she put me in touch with other classmates, through Facebook and I was added to the Class of 1968 Facebook page. I learned a lot about the class members in the year that followed through personal and group Facebook posts and interactions.
I found them to be caring, compassionate and to have a deep love for their communities, including the beaches and the canal. Perhaps because a group put so much planning an effort into the 50th reunion, or maybe they already had it, they displayed a deep appreciation for the gift of life and for each other.
The following year, when they found out I was going to be in town, one of my classmates took the lead in planning a get together, because I was going to be there. Now, I believe the sincerity of that plan and was both excited and honored. But I also think, this is a group that enjoys getting together.
I went to the dinner without great expectations, hoping for some good seafood and some pleasant conversation. But I came away with more than that. I came away with a sense of renewed friendship, a surprising new friendship, a feeling of belonging, or acceptance, and the hope of more visits and continued contact.
There were other opportunities that week for some one-on-one, in person visits. I had plenty of time to walk on the beach, to write and reflect. But if I say more, this post will become a book. Everything about this trip home was more than I could have asked for, or imagined. Perhaps hoped for, but filled with unexpected blessings and grace.
Every day, when I am smart enough to pray, I thank God for the family and friends who nurture and enrich my life. I thank God too, for cousins, and classmates, and the time to simply be.
I am just a vintage chic on a journey of discovery and I am
Not holding back the tide.
Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com