The five move up a row

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.

And yet.

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.


auntie said...

Happy Birthday from the middle chair in the front row!

And from one who appreciates the nuances of memoir, where "truth" trumps "fact" I did enjoy your story this morning. (We can clear up the facts sometime, if you like, but not necessarily; you've got the important bits.)

We did indeed recalibrate that day. And I have been very aware of that fact for the last couple of months. The shifting ripples back through the crowd as the "kids" have the babies, the mortgages, the jobs (or NOT) and the wise elders up front get to watch and cheer and encourage from the new vantage point.

Glad to see we've picked up someone who will preserve the family stories. That is such an important function. You know what they say about "stories"...

just us said...

I am the second youngest cousin in a group of only 6. I was 33 when my favourite uncle (father of 4 cousins) retired. It struck me quite hard because I realised that the baton was passing.

It was now up to me and my agemates to have the mortgages and children, to figure out the best of the new appliances and childcare credits on income tax forms, to have the conversations about best schooling options and whether a relative should still be driving.

I am so very fortunate that all of that generation is still with us and very active in their own ways.

But I felt - and feel - the shift.

Skyelark said...

I think a lot of us felt the same thing, Dave. (Perhaps it was all the time we had to reflect while waiting for stragglers.) I had my own moment as well while looking around at my mother sitting in the front row and all my cousins with their various offspring and knowing that my own young man was home sick by himself. Time marches on quietly for a while and then something happens to remind us of just how much things change when we're not paying attention. Its interesting, but also a little sad.

Jordan said...

I keep trying to comment on your blog but Google Chrome just won't let me do it. Firefox still likes you, though.

When I look at my cousins, I can already see what I used to see in my aunts and uncles. And when I look at my aunts and uncles...yeah, it's crazy how this stuff works.

Family stories rock, by the way.