Sunday, April 15, 2007


Joshua and I have been home, keeping my parents' dog this weekend.

On Friday night, my parents received a call from the wife of my father's older brother. My father's older brother (he is nine years older than my Dad) has been ill for quite some time, and he recently took a turn for the worse. Consequently, my parents decided to make a sudden visit to Oregon, where my uncle and his wife retired, this weekend.

My parents left for Oregon first thing Saturday morning. Josh and I rose very early, and we went over to my parents' house and we picked them up and took them to the airport. On our way back home, we picked up the dog and brought him back to our apartment.

My parents told Josh and me that we should just stay at their house until they returned from Oregon, but Josh and I decided that we would prefer to stay at our apartment. The dog is happy in our apartment, and we are happy in our apartment, and we did not think that there was any reason to camp at my parents' house.

I never knew my uncle very well. In fact, I think I only met him four or five times, and I have not seen him since I was twelve years old.

Until he retired, he was a physician, and he always lived and worked in California. My family never visited him in California, and he never visited my family in Minneapolis. So far as I know, my uncle has never once set foot in my parents' house, a house which my parents have occupied for more than thirty years. The only occasions on which I ever met him were in Iowa, at my father's parents' house, when my uncle was home for brief visits. On those occasions, my father would drive our entire family down to Iowa for a day visit; we would always return home the same day. Since it was almost a six-hour drive one-way, my family would leave Minneapolis at 6:00 a.m. or so, arrive at my grandparents' house at noon, depart for home at 6:00 p.m., and climb into bed at midnight. That really was not enough time to get to know my uncle.

My uncle and his wives--there were two--never had children. He was a workaholic, and a real estate investor, but otherwise I know very little about his life. I don't believe that my parents know much about his life, either, because they have not seen him in fourteen years. Their only contact had been an exchange of annual Christmas cards until my uncle got sick, at which point he and my Dad started keeping in touch by phone every couple of weeks or so, as the effects of my uncle's illness took their course.

While they are in Oregon, my parents are not staying at my uncle's house; they are staying at an hotel. When they departed, my parents had no idea whether any other of my father's siblings would be flying to Oregon, too. I have not heard from my parents since they arrived in Oregon, so I have no idea what is going on. I wish they would call, and I suspect they will telephone tonight.

All of my father's siblings are widely dispersed. All of them left Iowa--for the East Coast, for Texas, or for the West Coast--after college. Only my father remained in the Midwest, but he settled far away from his parents.

My father's family never appeared, to me, to be an especially close one. While I met my uncle (the one now in Oregon) only four or five times, I met the rest of my father's siblings only twice: when I was nine years old (at the funeral of my paternal grandmother) and when I was twelve years old (at the funeral of my paternal grandfather). So far as I know, the latter occasion was the last time my father has seen any of his siblings--at least until yesterday.

I never knew my paternal grandparents well, either. Never once did I, or my brothers, stay overnight in their home. Never once were I, or my brothers, left in their care. Never once did my grandparents visit us in Minneapolis. My brothers and I would only see them once or twice each year, generally in the summer, when my parents would take us down for a day visit. My grandparents were kind to us, of course, but I never got the impression that they wished for me and my brothers to become integral parts of their lives. They never bought us Christmas or birthday gifts; instead, they would send each of us boys a $10.00 bill for Christmas and for our birthdays. My grandparents never seemed to call or write to my parents, but perhaps I was unaware of such letters and phone calls. My brothers and I never talked about our grandparents at home, either among ourselves or with our Mom and Dad.

My father very seldom talks about his family, in any case, but I imagine that there has to be some bad blood there. All of his siblings left Iowa, never to return, and it seemed that they all moved as far away as possible from the family home. All of his siblings obtained an advanced education and all of his siblings became very successful in their chosen fields, proving that they were all ambitious, if not overly driven, individuals. However, none of them seemed to have close bonds with their parents or with each other.

I still recall vividly the funerals of both of my paternal grandparents. I remember how all of my father's siblings seemed to be undisturbed and unmoved by the deaths of their parents. I remember how they seemed to be formal, and remote, and uninvolved. I remember how they affected a studied indifference about what was going on around them. Even my cousins, whom I met only at those two funerals (and never before and never since), seemed to be utterly uninterested in everyone and everything.

I have often wondered whether my father's great love for my mother and his great love for my brothers and me was a reaction against what he experienced growing up in his own family home. He has showered each of us with nothing but love, unlimited and unconditional, our entire lives, and he has allowed each of us to shower him with love in return. He is the world's greatest father, but he was not, apparently, able to call upon his personal experiences with his own father in order to devise a suitable model of fatherhood--and, consequently, he created his own model. Something tells me that my father never experienced love until he met my mother, but he certainly gets more than his share of love now, from my mother and from each of his sons.

I do not know when my father and mother will return home. When they left on Saturday morning, it was unspoken among us, but assumed by everyone, that they would remain in Oregon until my uncle died and funeral services observed.

I am worried about them, but I know that they will probably call tonight. They have not called my brothers, either, because my brothers and I have kept in close contact with each other all weekend, but I suspect that each of us will hear from my parents tonight.

Josh and I have hung around home most of the weekend, trying to stay near the telephone. We did go out yesterday morning, dog in tow, for food shopping, and we did go play racquetball afterward, but we did this before my parents' plane landed in Oregon. We stayed home the remainder of the day. We ran the dog early this morning, and we attended Sunday service, but otherwise we have remained home today, too. Our minister knew about my parents' trip to Oregon, because he inquired about them after service. Apparently a neighbor who also goes to our church told him about my parents' last-minute trip to the West Coast, and the purpose thereof.

Josh and I are having fun, keeping the dog entertained. We are playing with him, and giving him lots of attention, and feeding him well. Yesterday afternoon he got a boiled ham bone, with lots of meat on it, and last night he got some cut-up fresh beef. Tonight he will get a baked and deboned chicken, which he is accustomed to having on Sunday nights, and we will probably give him some mashed potatoes, too, to go along with it (the dog loves mashed potatoes). He is perfectly content to be here with us.

As for Josh and me, we are talking about and sharing family experiences, which we often do.

And I am thinking about my uncle, and my parents, and trying not to worry, and hoping that they all get through this difficult time as painlessly and with as much grace as possible.

1 comment:

  1. That is an incredibly powerful blog entry. It's not just the content, but the delivery as well. I can relate in some ways, on the outside, it might appear that my family isn't that "tight" or close.....but in my opinion, that's not necessarily the case. I have one brother who is here in NY, we speak maybe once or twice a month, although we live about 20 minutes away from each other. It is an interesting dynamic though....and I definitely wish you the best on the family front, that dynamic is something I can VERY much relate to though!