Bernie and I were in Chicago this week. Actually, we were in Palatine and Grayslake, but given the great distance, I always tell people Chicago, which is where I grew up. A trip back always means visits with relatives.
We first stayed with my cousin Sally. Even without my coaxing, she always makes sure we get to see other family members. We had breakfast with my Aunt Maureen, the last living member of the generation above us. I love hearing the stories of years past, especially those that give us a glimpse into the character and dreams of our loved ones. Her husband, my mother’s brother, known as the “baby” of the family, was an engineer who spent most of his career with Kraft Foods. I learned that he was known as the “Cheese man” who saved a plant from folding in Allentown, Pennsylvania, when he figured out how to get their cheese-making machine to produce at a faster pace. Listening to Aunt Maureen tell the story of the party the employees had for him brought tears to my eyes. I also learned that Uncle Ray came up with the idea of putting little papers between the American cheese slices. We are having toasted cheese sandwiches for dinner tonight and I know he will be at our table.
Sally also arranged for a few cousins to join us for supper at a restaurant that happens to be in the neighborhood where I spent my teen years. My cousin Jackie, her brother John with his wife Marylou and another cousin, Louie with his wife, Mary, were there. With our 50th anniversary coming up, there was a lot of reminiscing about the wedding and the times of our lives during the years all of us were launching out into the world.
The same thing happened when I visited with my brother Chuck and his wife, Marylou, a couple of days later. I hears for the first time the story of why he joined the navy right out of high school and how he ended up going into pipefitting. It wasn’t our anniversary that prompted reminiscing, however, My brother started on a journey dealing with cancer, which was the reason for the trip. Unlike what you might expect, the two days with him were filled with laughter and positive messages about life. We played a game of Mexican Train and enjoyed bantering and arguing over the rules, each one of us interpreting rules to our own favor. Their daughter, Denise, came with her son, Adam, and I had a chance to talk to their son, Chuck junior by phone. These young people, I realize, are in what is known as “middle age”. Yikes!
On our way out, we drove to Kenosha Wisconsin where we visited my cousins Mary and Frannie. These two women have never changed, no matter what their bodies look like. Mary is snarky and opinionated, Frannie we can depend on fer prayers. Her arms are always full of cares about each and every family family member. Both have an uncanny wisdom that has always filled me up.
I read a little saying on Facebook the other day: “If only our eyes saw souls instead of our bodies, how different our ideas of beauty would be.” The bodies of the people I encountered this past week are falling apart. Smiles are just as sparkling as ever but they are surrounded now by wrinkles and age spots. Most of us limp. But I came away with a sense of wonder – wonder why I did not see what I am seeing now. I suppose we have all been busy raising our families and having careers. The people we were in our twenties are not the same as the ones that I visited this week. I think the veneer between what we see with our eyes and what we see with our hearts has worn. I cannot wait to see them again.