MINESTRONE FOR THE SOUL
“We’re making memories here.”
Many moons ago – in another lifetime really – I remember being at Lake Panamoka in Ridge, N.Y. splashing away a Saturday afternoon with my brother, sister, and cousin, who was a resident in the area. The grown-ups were on the sand having a grown-up discussion as only grown ups can. Aunt Sharon, my cousin’s mother, remarked, “We are making memories here.” I don’t know what led up to this statement of fact or what came after it. But it has always stuck with me, especially since my aunt passed away in 2007.
Here’s the thing. God plucks people out of your life without notice (or sometimes there is notice and the announcement goes on and on until you’re hoping for the end to come to stop the suffering, so everyone can move on and have peace). I can hardly believe it’s been so long without Aunt Sharon. Just two weeks ago we commemorated the one-year anniversary of the loss of my beloved grandfather. Losing them and a bunch of other aunts and uncles recently has given me pause, a chance to reflect on what’s really valuable and what really makes for a good life.
My grandfather did the unthinkable in the name of quality time with family. He actually once mortgaged his house and took his kids out of school to spend six months with his children in France and Italy, so they would know their aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents who lived on another continent. With six children and a wife to support in the United States and despite having a landscaping and factory job, he still almost always scraped up enough money to visit family members, who lived all over the world. He traveled from the United States to Australia twice to see his brother and his family. And he brought 22 of us from the United States to his hometown in Ischia, Italy for a family reunion in 1995. If there was a party with relatives, my grandpa was going to be there no matter where it was.
Although Aunt Sharon was only related to my grandfather by marriage, they were on the same page, at least when it came to this idea of making memories. Really, it’s part of the Italian DNA (and she was Italian by marriage, too, of course). It all begins with those Sunday afternoons when your entire extended family packs itself into one house and gorges on pasta (with the good sauce usually made by the nonni), not to mention meatballs, antipasto, and Italian pastries. Now that every Sunday has become “when you can,” you have to make excuses to get together with the bigger family.
That’s what I do, in the name of all my late grandparents, the aunts and uncles we’ve lost, the people I miss in my darkest hours and brightest days. It’s also because I can never give my son or my niece and nephew the magic of those Sundays or the sheer number of cousins (also known as best friends) and second sets of parents that we had as children, thanks to my mother being the oldest of six and my father being the youngest of nine. But I can give them a taste. The only way to do that is to celebrate every chance we get and include whoever we can.
I’ve given my son all sorts of toys. And he makes a feast every time I do. A few of them he really appreciates. But sooner or later they all lose their shine. But we still talk about his Buzz Lightyear birthday party that featured more than 60 of our closest relatives packing our driveway and backyard. He never forgets our trips to Disney World and meeting Mickey Mouse. Going to the beach is like Christmas in July. Having Spider-Man face off with Mr. Potato Head is stretching his imagination. Making volcanoes (with baking soda and vinegar), having sleepovers, and making believe with his cousins never ever get old.
Sure, a couple of my beloved relatives, who are now angels, gave me material gifts that I adored. But it is the laughs and food we shared, the advice they gave me, and the love they showed gathered around the table for which I ache. Oh, how I ache. So, follow Aunt Sharon’s philosophy and get to making memories. Right now. Time is ticking.