On a recent weekend, my wife, son and I were readying what will be our retirement home in our native state of Illinois. We have not lived in the southern part of the state since traveling off to seminary 39 years ago.
We’ll live closer to our three grandchildren, within comfortable driving distance, but our home will be in the same community as one of my wife’s siblings and one of mine. My mother, frail after 19 years of Parkinson’s Disease and advancing age, and my brother live about 40 miles away in our hometown. And the younger of my two sisters lives three hours away, give or take.
We were prepping our newly acquired home that weekend, downsized from the one we have occupied for the past 18-plus years, by anticipating the crew that will be moving the big and fragile stuff soon, painting and last-minute cleaning.
A mid-afternoon call from my brother was an invitation for the four siblings to get together for dinner that Saturday evening in our new town. The others and their spouses had signed off on it. My youngest sister was in the area so the rare chance for a get-together of all four of us and our spouses presented itself.
We scurried about, straightened up the living room, even though it had almost no furniture then, and cleaned up ourselves. Almost as soon as they arrived, we headed for a local restaurant and were seated at a large table in a quiet area of the eatery.
We carried on the same kind of exchange that had been a signature part of our growing up, including reports of how Mother has been faring with a lot of physical and emotional adjustments. But we also kidded each other and gave each other updates on our families and ourselves.
Except for our own frailties and the wrinkles on the faces of the men-folk and their gray hair, this was like things were 40-50 years ago for the family of Bob and Vera Webb. Our father died suddenly 28 years ago and mother is unable to travel outside the nursing facility where she lives these days. We were reminded of their absence.
It dawned on me that this warm fellowship with my immediate family growing up was something I had particularly missed in our nearly 40 years of not living nearby.
We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner outing together. Then we returned to our home, sitting together and visiting some more. We had pulled in a few folding chairs and a couple of patio chairs from our deck and added them to the circle.
We lingered there in this sparse room and then again at the door as it became time for our guests to return to their homes. Then we walked them to their cars and visited a little more. Obviously, we were reluctant for the evening with siblings — significant members of our family — to end. Finally it did.
The consensus is that these times must now become more frequent, and they can as we find ourselves in greater proximity to each other. We’ll not only be looking out for Mother but for each other in the days and years ahead. (I have discovered that my kin back in southern Illinois have been aging at about the same rate as I over the past 40 years.)
We’re all different in our own ways from two generations ago, but we’re still family and therefore no less important to each other than before. The love is still there.
Bill Webb is editor of Word & Way.