May. 30th, 2017

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So let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time there were two brothers living in NJ, fresh off the boat from Italy.  They met and fell in love with two first generation Italian-American sisters with whom they married.  The two couples moved into a duplex.  The resulting children were raised more or less by all four parents in the semi-chaotic Italian speaking quasi-duel households.  And for many years everyone was very happy.

Over time the children grew up and moved out, starting families of their own.  Then, one Christmas morning one of the brothers climbed the three steps of his nephew's family's house, rang the doorbell and dropped dead of a heart attack.  Then there were three.

Several more years passed.  The children of the original two couples began to enter adulthood.  The wife of the surviving brother began to feel some pain and discomfort but waited several months before going to the doctor.  When she finally did, it was too late.  He released her to go back home and die in the comfort of her own family.  During her last two weeks, she continuously made vague remarks against her husband to her sister and the children.

One month after her death, her husband remarried.

The affair and swift remarriage polarized the family.  The remaining sister hated her brother-in-law for his infidelity and refused to see or speak to him.  Moreover, she insisted no one else do as well.  Most of the family, scandalized, followed her lead, but there were still a few that were not willing to cut off the old man.  One of these few was a man named Vincent, who did not wish to disown his father, despite what he did to his mother.  So most of the rest of the family cut him out as well as his wife and children.

For decades this continued, long after the adulter, his new wife, and even the remaining sister had passed away.

Vincent is my grandfather.  

Recently my brother, D, stopped at the farmstand of  my grandfather's cousin.  Just because he was in the neighborhood and he felt why not buy some produce and see an arm of the family that I've never met?  My grandfather's cousin's son was there and the two struck up a conversation.  He told him how our grandfather was, that is, that he had Parkinson's and his heart wasn't so good and that he was turning 80.

A couple days later, my grandfather called him and talked with him for the first time in forty years.

Then, his brother called as well.

Then they called again on my grandfather's birthday.  There is no other present he could have gotten that could have compared to that.

My brother D marveled that to our mother this rift in the family was healing.  And she pointed out that he had been refusing to talk to our brother M for nearly five years and had done the same to me in the past six months.  And she pointed out that as wonderful as it is that they were talking again, our grandfather and his cousins and brother would never get those forty years back.  And she pointed out that not all family members lived for the reunion and that you just never know how long you have.

This weekend we celebrated my grandfather's birthday.  My brother and his wife both reached out and chatted with both my and our brother.  They let the kids play with each other and with their aunts and uncles.  They held my brother M's new baby and chatted pleasantly with his girlfriend.

Perhaps there is no present that could have beat a phone call from his cousins and brother, but to my grandfather, that was a close second.


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