Bittersweet Reunion

On Sunday I made the 150 mile trip to my father’s hometown for his family’s Christmas celebration. This is the second one I’ve attended since his death in 2008. For some reason this trip hit me harder than the one before. I guess it was because my mother, in ill heath herself, wasn’t able to make the trip this year and for the first time in my life my wife and I made that long trek alone.

My wife and I spent nearly an hour before the trip working out an alternate route than the traditional one my parents taught us all those years. My wife’s motivation for that was to try to speed up the trip. Deep down I think I was more interested in changing the trip for emotional reasons.

The trip itself was good, the time went by pretty quickly and we did get there faster using the route we selected. The gathering is in what my Aunt and Uncle call their “little farmhouse” which is a 3 bed room house that has been expanded and renovated over the many years they have lived there. I’m not sure I would call it little but having 60+ people in it sure makes it feel small.

It was good to see everyone again. Many of the younger relatives I don’t even recognize any more. I see them as kids running around the front yard playing with silly string instead of the young adults they now are, driving fast cars and smoking.

Seeing my grandmother was tough for me. I can’t see her and not think about my dad, especially this trip because she had called me several weeks ago to ask permission to buy my dad a headstone. I hadn’t had the time to get to this task with everything we’ve been through with my mother over the past year and I was grateful that she wanted to do this, but seeing her now just makes me think about it and she hits me hard with a phrase about the headstone, “It’s the last thing I’ll ever be able to do for him.”

The recently added routine of giving everyone a t-shirt for Christmas occurs at the end of the gift giving ritual. Everyone gets a shirt with the family name on the front and their name and the number representing the order in which they entered into the family (by birth, marriage, etc). They have a shirt for my dad. This causes my wife to have to leave the room to get control of her emotions and I stand very still trying to hold back the emotional outburst that struggles to stay under control. In the end I mostly succeed and it is time for the last challenge of the weeknd..visiting my father’s gravesite and viewing the new headstone.

The trip out there from my Aunt’s house is about 20 minutes and it takes forever. I’ve only driven out there once before myself and someone was driving in front of us that day. We find it using two different GPS systems and view the new headstone. For some reason my grandmother’s words and the t-shirt are more powerful. I feel more at peace here than in that farmh house surrounded by family.

All in all the trip was enjoyable, it was good to see everyone again and making the first of probalby many more trips by ourselves was kind of a coming of age experience. My emotions though are still a jumble in a way they haven’t been in a while. All of it just brought back so many memories of my parents and those trips I made as a child.

Jerry Sutton

I am, at heart, a software developer though I am currently managing a small Information Technology department for a mid sized company located in my hometown of Jacksonville, FL. When I am not playing with the latest smart-phone or trying to become inspired to write code I read almost anything I can get my hands on from Pulp Era adventures to biographies of world leaders and everything in between.