Something interesting happened at the wake following Grandma D's funeral. It happened during the big group photo of Grandma's descendants (who were in attendance). It was the usual photo of the type--one huge mass of the many cousins, uncles, aunts, grand kids, etc., with the senior generation seated in the front row of honour.
Grandma was our usual row of honour. We had to recalibrate. And that meant a new row of five chairs: one for each of Grandma's kids.
I think someone made a joke about the generational shift that just occurred. I don't want to make too big a deal about it, but how often does that happen? I think it's worth remarking on. Especially since the five don't tend to end up in the same photo very often.
My oldest sister got married Christmas week when I was 17. The whole lot of Atkinsons made it to the Leamington area for the week-long party it became. I don't know how the conversation started, but my cousin Katie and I got to talking to my dad and her mum about their childhood on the farm. They both agreed, their favourite memory of growing up was hoeing the tomato fields on Saturday afternoon.
This answer didn't jive well with Katie or me. She spent a few weeks the previous summer picking tomatoes with me on our farm. At 17 and 15, we couldn't imagine those sticky, sweaty, backbreaking hours spent with green-stained fingers being any more than wasted moments to be forgotten.
We started up a survey. We sought the rest of the five, and found one seated at the euchre table.
Katie: Aunt Marion: what's your favourite memory of growing up on the farm?
Marion: (thinking) I'd have to say... probably hoeing the tomatoes on Saturday afternoons.
This was maddening. We found the next sibling playing crokinole.
Me: Uncle Jim: what's your favourite memory of growing up on the farm?
Uncle Jim: (flicking a chip) Tough one. Probably hoeing the tomato fields on Saturday afternoons.
Impossible. Ruth Anne was our only hope. She was sitting at the kitchen table helping Grandma finish a pot of tea.
Ruth Anne: That's easy. Hoeing tomatoes on Saturday afternoons*.
That settled it. We came from a family of crazy people.
I don't know exactly what went on during those Saturday afternoons. I do know my grandfather stood in the end of the rows with a sharpening stone, waiting for someone to finish a row so he could put a fresh edge on his or her hoe. As for the rest... it's not my story to tell.
I'm one of four siblings. Two of us have kids. Another will join us in parenthood within months. These years, when I think of my family, I think of Erin, Henry, Jane, and Alice. I have no less love for my siblings, parents, uncles, aunts, or cousins. I think it's part of a pretty natural progression.
I think the next step in that progression happened for my dad and his siblings the moment they became the front row. Five who started together, then scattered with their own families, then were thrust back together. The front row.
Again, I'm probably making too much of this. But it's just what I've been thinking about in the last few weeks.
*Note: my memory tells me they did their hoeing on Sunday afternoons. That's what I remember them saying, but this was a God-fearing family. I can't imagine them actually doing this on Sunday. I've switched it in this post to Saturday because I assume I'm remembering wrong. Please correct me in the comments.