Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Seven ages

This past weekend was Family Reunion weekend, a tradition of my Dad's family for some fifty years now -- always on the first weekend of August as that coincided with my grandmother's birthday.

When I was a kid, family reunion weekend was one of my favorite times of the year. My aunts and uncles and cousins would come to the farm from far away (to me, at the time) places such as Florida and Maryland and Pennsylvania. Some years we'd have a hundred or more people at the Sunday lunch, which was always held in the fellowship hall of the church our family has attended for several generations.

Then I grew up and moved to far away places. For several years, I was the one who traveled the farthest to attend the family reunion -- when I was able to attend. During my 22 years away, there were many births and deaths as well as marriages and divorces, as happens with any family.

Nowadays, our family reunion attendance is a third or perhaps even less than that compared to back in the 70s. The oldest of "my generation" (i.e., the cousins) are now retired and many have grandchildren of their own. There was a whole generation of "kids" (children of my first cousins) that I never got to know when they were kids, since I was living away. Some of these cousins have kids of their own now, and of course, that makes me feel OLD! But it's really cool to see everyone and to meet "new" family members, too.

Sometimes when family and generations come together, interesting things happen. Something magical happened Sunday morning. While taking a tour of the old farmhouse where he grew up (which is now my old farmhouse), my 92 year-old uncle pointed out the place on the kitchen floor where as a child he studied by the light of the fire. He then recited a passage from Shakespeare that he'd memorized back in the 1930s, as we all stood frozen in awe and humbled not just at his incredible memory but at the poignant truth in Shakespeare's words:

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

(from As You Like It)

Sometimes I wonder what will happen to the family reunion when my aunts and uncles are gone. Will we still have it? Will my cousins still want to get together? (My oldest first cousin is now 70 and the youngest of "my generation" is 41.) Or will we all scatter with the wind and forget our history and family connections?

I hope not. I'd like to experience more of these magic moments where the past and present come together. LOTS more.