I come from a big Irish-Catholic family. We grew up in New York City. My parents had six kids. I'm somewhere in the middle. I've got an older brother and sister, plus a younger brother and two younger sisters. For better or worse, we're not a particularly close family. Most of us still live dispersed in New York State if not the City itself except for my oldest brother, Bill. My younger brother Patrick and I both live in Florida: He in the Miami area; me in Pensacola – about as far from each other as you can be in Florida.
As I said, we kids are not close. Years go by without seeing each other – or even communicating very much. The reasons for this are complex and not completely understood by this reporter. I hate to use the expression, but it is what it is. Facebook has helped that, but only slightly.
And yet this past weekend I was back up in New York as we all gathered together again. It occurred to me that the last time all six of us were under the same roof was back in 1998 on the occasion of my father's funeral. This time it was my mom's. (She was 94, and it was not unexpected.)
It was interesting to see my brothers and sisters again. We've all aged considerably as you'd expect, but yet we all look pretty much the same. Nobody's gone bald, although some of us (me included) have revealing holes in the hair on the back of our heads. All of my sibs are inexplicably as thin as starving supermodels. I, on the other hand, look like the “before” picture in a Weight-Watchers ad. My younger brother Pat looks and sounds so much like dad that it's spooky. I kept doing a double-take. The rest of us are a mix.
We got together a couple of times after the service. Naturally there was a lot of reminiscing: some good, some sad. My memory is so awful. It's fortunate that your brothers and sisters can fill in holes in your own recollections. I feel sorry for those who come from small families. It was also funny (to me, anyway) that a lot of my memories centered around the kind of cars we had at the time. ”Ohhhhh yeah, I remember now! That was when we had our second Volkswagen Bus.” And so on.
It was a sad occasion, obviously, but I was happy with a number of things:
One, although I refer to (and think of!) us as such, none of us are kids anymore. The eldest being 69 and the youngest is 57. Thank God we are all still in fairly good health. None of have turned into stereotypical grumpy old people. I didn't hear any bitching and moaning or anyone being crabby about anything. It was refreshing and gratifying.
Secondly, it's amazing to me to rediscover how naturally funny my brothers and sisters are. I thought I was “the funny one” in the family. Not so! Compared to my sibs I am a virtual sourpuss. They are hilarious, each with a keen sense of humor that must be genetic come to think of it. I don't mean to imply that we were yucking and whooping it up on the weekend of mom's funeral. We were not. But neither were we morose and disconsolate. That is not the Irish way!
Finally, we all got along really well. You know that in any big family there's bound to be a certain amount of...tension or perhaps animosities among the siblings. Mine is no exception. But on this weekend nobody brought up any drama from the past. If there was any it was kept below the surface.
In a bar after the service (like I said we are Irish after all), one of my older sister's adult daughters asked me, ”Now that your mom is gone, do you think you and your brothers and sisters will become closer?” It was an interesting question and it kind of caught me off-guard. For I don't really know. Maybe. We'll see.
On Monday morning as the Delta MD-88 climbed out and away from Albany, headed back south, I reflected on the events of the past two days, as you're required to do when taking an airline trip. It was, all things considered a nice weekend. We all love our family, of course. But beyond that, I like my brothers and sisters too. I admire them. They're all highly intelligent, funny, well-adjusted people who grew up without drug or alcohol problems, and who have never seen the inside of a jail cell (to my knowledge anyway). My parents (may they rest in peace) can be proud that they raised five wonderful children.
...And one ne'er-do-well pilot/motorcyclist bum.